TOPPENISH — According to employees at Agri Beef (AB), a second co-worker has tested positive for COVID-19 and was last in the meat processing facility working their split-shift schedule on Saturday, March 28.

They were informed of the second victim by a company memorandum posted Friday, April 3 as the employees began their shift at the Elmwood Road facility.

The memo read: “Last night, we also learned that a fabrication team member on table three has tested positive for coronavirus. This team member has not been hospitalized and will be recovering at home for at least 14 days. In order to protect employee privacy, no additional details can be provided.”

Following the Sunnyside Sun article which was posted online entitled, “Toppenish Agri Beef employees seek answers in COVID-19 death” on Friday, March 27, concerned workers have recently gone to get tested of their own volition after exhibiting virus symptoms – cough, shortness of breath and fever.

As a result of a limited availability of testing kits, only those experiencing acute symptoms are presently eligible for the exam.

“They jammed a big old Q-Tip up your nose and twisted it into the back of your brain,” the AB employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. “It was a little scary. I thought I had it!”

Agri Beef, also known locally as Washington Beef (WB), was contacted for comment on this article and issued a statement on Tuesday, April 7, about their policies and activities to prevent additional spread of the virus.

“We are strictly following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 guidelines. Any employee exhibiting symptoms while at work will be seen in our onsite medical clinic for evaluation and then sent home. In the event of a positive test result, a contact investigation will be conducted, identifying all employees who may have had contact with the positive case. If any, those employees will be sent home to self-quarantine for a minimum of 14 days,” the press release stated.

Following their contact investigation of close proximity, WB company officials confirmed there were two additional employees placed in 14-day quarantine.

A common theme expressed by employees is their fear of possibly spreading the disease among coworkers because many of them live in households with extended family members. These family members range in age from infants to seniors over 60-years-old, along with other high-risk relatives who have underlying health conditions.

“I am still worried about my family. If anybody gets sick at my house and they die, I’m going to feel like it’s my fault,” the employee said.

The AB memo went on to disclose, “the [infected] employee was last in the facility on March 28, 2020. Employees, who may have had contact with this employee, have been identified and will be interviewed today [April 3]. Any employee, who had contact will be sent home to self-quarantine for 14 days.”

These priority workplace employees are once again worried they should have been notified earlier about the possibility of being exposed a second time to COVID-19 at the workplace.

Since March 27, personnel have been actively engaging in social distancing on the processing floor.

“When that 30-year-old guy died, they (AB representatives) never said what table he was at. They never said what shift he worked or anything like that,” the employee said. “They just said some guy who works here, 30-year-old, got sick and he died from a heart attack.”

As team members began discussing the latest developments amongst themselves on Thursday, April 2, this time they were relatively certain who tested positive for the virus which caused management to disclose additional data regarding the incident.

“So, that’s why I believe they put up the information this time,” the employee said.

There were workers who observed the coronavirus-stricken co-worker was exhibiting coughing symptoms prior to the six-feet apart company mandate.

Employees are also extremely nervous about not receiving a paycheck should they be sent home by a supervisor – feeling like management is punishing them and making workers think they’re sick when told to go home.

Laborers are also scared that they will not be paid by the company when having to take time off to get tested, while remaining home and waiting for test results.

And, should they test positive for COVID-19, there’s a strong belief they won’t have jobs when they’re able to return, the employee said.

Patrick Shelby can be contacted at 509-837-4500, ext. 110 or email PShelby@SunnysideSun.com

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