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Number of coronavirus cases at Madison County farm up to 139, officials say more cases likely

Justin Sewell
Green Empire Farms in Madison County grows and ships strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers from its greenhouse facility in Wampsville

Officials in Oneida and Madison counties are tracking down the movements of at least 139 employees of Green Empire Farms who have tested positive for COVID-19, the main reason for a major spike in the number of coronavirus cases in the counties in the last few days.

State health officials started testing nearly 200 seasonal workers at the giant hydroponic greenhouse last weekend because of concerns it might be a COVID hotspot. Madison County Public Health Director Eric Faisst doesn't believe the virus spread among the mostly migrant workers at the 32-acre greenhouse, noting they live in close quarters, which would be a more likely reason for the spread.

75 of the employees live in Madison County. Another 64 live in Oneida County. Two from Madison County are currently hospitalized.

The people from Madison County who tested positive are quarantined in two hotels: the Days Inn in Canastota, and the Super 8 in Oneida. The health department is tracing their steps to see if there has been any potential spread to the community at large. Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said Tuesday that the season workers from that county had been staying at the La Quinta in Vernon. He said they are currently quarantined at that hotel. 

Faisst said one thing he doesn't want to see is the community stigmatizing this group.

"They're humans. During our testing they were extremely cooperative, they're extremely gracious and they're scared," Faisst said. "So let's not make it difficult for them by pigeonholing them."

Green Empire Farms is a large greenhouse complex that grows fruits and vegetables year round and is still open. Around 300 people are employed at the farm, which is owned by Matronardi Produce, based in Kingsville, Ontario. The remaining employees were being tested Tuesday.

Health officials say another reason for the increase in positive tests in Madison County is a hotspot at The Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing in Chittenango. Madison County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Becker emphasized that the more than doubling of positive coronavirus tests are mostly in these two areas, so there's limited risk to residents, who should still be taking precautions to keep themselves safe.

"You're the only ones that can keep yourself safe," Becker said. "Keep your masks on, social distance. Yeah, we may want to get an ice cream, but stay six feet away from the person in front of you."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.