38 employees test positive for COVID-19 at Morgan Hill fish-packing plant

More than three dozen employees at a fish-packing plant in Morgan Hill have tested positive for the coronavirus. Lusamerica Foods is located on Railroad Avenue not far from Highway 101.

At least 38 employees are at home now after testing positive. The test results came back Monday. County staff plan to return to the plant on Wednesday for repeat testing.

At the end of the work day on Tuesday, employees of Lusamerica, a wholesale seafood and distribution plant, in Morgan Hill were seen leaving wearing face masks which is now mandatory amid a coronavirus outbreak.

“A couple of weeks ago an employee from this company, their spouse was hospitalized with Covid,” said Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody.

Dr. Cody said the county learned of the newly discovered cluster of cases after an employee’s spouse got sick. Then, the employee was tested as was everyone that person had contact with in the company.

“Over the course of a day, we tested everyone there and identified 38 more people who were positive,” said Dr. Cody.

“My reaction is not unexpected,” said SJSU Biotechnology & Business Professor Mark Schwartz. “I think we are going to see cases like this spring up all over the country. We have closely packed people.”

Schwartz is speaking about the growing list of food processing facilities where COVID-19 infections have spread, mostly meat-packing facilities including one in Central California where 138 employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Schwartz said the work is labor intensive and employees are in an environment where the virus can take hold.

“A mask is really there for you to prevent it from spreading to other people,” said Schwartz. “If you are breathing hard, it’s not 100 percent. If it slips down, you are going to perspire, you are going to breathe hard, better chance of spreading the virus.”

In a statement, Lusamerica said the majority of the employees who tested positive are asymptomatic. Several new measures are in place including closing the cafeteria and locker rooms where social distancing is a challenge, checking employees’ temperatures at the beginning and later in their work day and adding physical barriers to work stations.

“They are playing catch up at this point,” said Schwartz. “We need to do them before an infection hits a certain area. Companies need to do that before someone is infected not afterward.”

Lusamerica has a distribution plant in Vernon near Los Angeles, where several other food processing facilities are being investigated for coronavirus outbreaks.

No reports of cases in Vernon nor at Lusamerica’s processing plant in Washington. The company is expanding operations at its other locations to meet demand.