DUNKIRK, N.Y. (WKBW) — "You know it is community spread," explained PJ Wendel, Chautauqua County Executive.
Following a COVID-19 outbreak at Fieldbrook Foods in Dunkirk earlier this week, the facility is now reporting 24 additional cases of COVID-19.
On Monday, Chautauqua County reported an outbreak of 21 positive tests at the food manufacturing facility. Cases linked to the facility accounted for 21 out of 31 cases in the county.
The first positive test came in on August 16th. Following the additional positive tests, the county hosted a testing event for the facility on Tuesday. Thursday night, the county reported an additional 24 new COVID-19 cases were reported as a result of that testing of 393 employees.
Chautuaqua County officials revealing mass testing clinics for COVID were held earlier this week during a news conference Friday morning. The tests were voluntary for employees of Fieldbrook Foods.
Individuals who tested positive are now under mandatory isolation orders, and anyone in close contact with those individuals is in mandatory quarantine.
The county reports Fieldbrook Foods is cooperating with local and state authorities as they continue to investigate the outbreak. The company makes ice cream, frozen novelty items and sherbet.
Officials say since August 16 there have been 49 cases in Fieldbrook employees and 14 cases in close contacts of those employees.
“Our Public Health staff continues to work proactively and tirelessly with Fieldbrook Foods and the regional offices of the New York State Department of Health and Agriculture and Markets to protect employees and the community and identify steps needed to prevent further spread of COVID-19,” said Chautauqua County Public Health Director Christine Schuyler. “We have taken all appropriate and necessary actions during this outbreak and I am extremely proud of my staff and grateful for the many partners who are working collaboratively with us during these unprecedented times.”
Schuyler noted that through contract tracers, it's believed social gatherings could be the reason for the spread.
"We have learned that there were at least two, if not three large social gatherings in the Dunkirk community," Schuyler stated.
At one point during the news briefing, the public health leader became emotional as she reminded the community their actions have consequences.
"They also spill over to all of us, who are working 24/7, to try to prevent the spread of this disease. I'm very proud of my staff," cried Schuyler.
The county executive also stressed to the public to be careful when gathering and follow COVID guidelines.
"You know you can't control employees 24/7 and none of use would want that, Wendel explained.
Residents who live near the plant tell 7 Eyewitness News they're not too worried.
"I'd be more surprised if like a hospital or something or a nursing home because they're dealing with that on a daily basis," declared Tiffany Shaw, resident.
The public health director said she is not requiring the facility to shut down and Fieldbrook remains open.
The county says local and state investigations confirm the facility has been following state and federal guidelines and regulations throughout the pandemic. At this time health department officials say there is no reason to close down operations at the facility.
"Fieldbrook Foods conducts thorough sanitization and disinfection of the Dunkirk facility on a nightly basis. Deep cleaning efforts will continue. In addition, cleaning and disinfection efforts throughout the facility will be enhanced throughout the first and second shifts of operation as well, including but not limited to frequently touched surfaces and common areas," a release states.
"They area taking the proper precautions. It's a three shift operation. Two of those shifts are production and the 3rd shift is cleaning and sanitizing," assured Wendel.
Eight NYSDOH rapid testing sites will be open beginning Saturday across WNY with one in Dunkirk, you can find more information here.
As of Friday eight new COVID cases were also reported in Chautauqua County.