Bunker Mentality Supports Area Spikes?

The primary responsibility of the Chautauqua County Department of Health and the County Executive’s Office throughout the COVID-19 crisis is to protect the lives and health of all Chautauqua County residents.

In response to the article printed in the Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, Post-Journal entitled “Drastic Rise,” I would like to issue the following statement.

There was no decision by Chautauqua County Government to say we deliberately waited or wished the situation at Fieldbrook Foods would go away. To the contrary, on Thursday, Aug. 20, we were informed that there was a potential uptick in possible cases at Fieldbrook Foods. We contacted Fieldbrook Foods local HR director, officials at its parent corporation, Wells Inc., and officials of the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) to establish proactive wide-scale testing for its employees at the Dunkirk facility.

The protocol of Chautauqua County Department of Health is not to release the names of the businesses who have employees that test positive for COVID-19 unless there is a public health risk. In no way can county leaders be partly responsible for an outbreak that occurred in local businesses. Individuals who were symptomatic and tested were told to quarantine and not return to work. Through contact tracing it was determined and verified by the positive patients that social gatherings had occurred between the time they were tested and the time they received their results. This in part is a potential spread amongst employees outside of the workplace.

On Friday, Aug. 21, Fieldbrook Foods, Chautauqua County Department of Health, NYS DOH, and Wells Inc. along with Chautauqua County Public Health Director Christine Schuyler and I were on a conference call to establish widespread testing of the employees at Fieldbrook Foods. At the end of business on Friday, it was determined that there were 9 related cases of COVID-19 to Fieldbrook Foods.

On the morning of Sunday, Aug. 23, our Public Health Director, Christine Schuyler sent the following statement to the media:

The Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Division works collaboratively with employers when a case(s) of COVID-19 is identified. With every positive case of COVID-19, disease investigation is conducted and isolation and quarantine orders are issued. Only when close contacts cannot adequately be identified or located, will public health agencies issue a public notification with more specific information to assist in locating contacts and mitigating disease spread.

“We are working collaboratively with an employer in the north county where an employee(s) tested positive for COVID-19. This employer has been very cooperative and is following all of the required and recommended state protocols for this industry. In partnership with the NYSDOH, we are continuing our public health work on this situation.”

Upon returning to work on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, Chautauqua County Department of Health and the County Executive’s Office were advised that there were 15 new COVID-19 cases that had come in over the weekend that were related to Fieldbrook Foods. At that time, it was determined by our COVID-19 Response Team and corporate officials from Fieldbrook Foods that a press conference would be conducted that day to fully disclose the name of the employer and the situation at hand.

During a morning conference call with local officials from Fieldbrook Foods, it was brought to our attention that without consulting with the County Health Department nor County Executive’s Office that New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo had announced at his press conference that Western New York was seeing an increase in cases. This spike was attributed to clusters at a steel plant in Erie County and a food processing factory in Chautauqua County, further iterating what Director Schuyler had reported to the media on Sunday.

At 12:30 p.m. on Monday afternoon, there was a Zoom meeting that included County, State, and local elected officials, school superintendents, members of Chautauqua County Emergency Management, Chautauqua County EMS, ALSTAR EMS, and Fredonia Fire to discuss the situation at Fieldbrook Foods and the testing that would and did occur on Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday, Aug. 25, voluntary testing was administered onsite at Fieldbrook Foods in Dunkirk for all employees wishing to be tested. It was determined that the results from this mass testing event at Fieldbrook Foods would be returned to Chautauqua County on Thursday, August 27.

On Thursday it was indicated that 393 individuals were tested through the mass testing event and of them 24 individuals tested positive for COVID-19. In total there were 49 cases of COVID-19 out of a workforce of 650 employees (7.5% positive) at Fieldbrook Foods.

We cannot control individuals sharing their health information with the local news media. That is within their rights and not the rights of Chautauqua County Department of Health or County Executive’s Office. The information that was listed is highly confidential and can only be released by the patients themselves and no one else.

I would like to clarify the other incidents mentioned in this article. A boat party over the Fourth of July Weekend and a birthday party were one-day events that were related to small groups of individuals. In comparison, the incident at Fieldbrook Foods involved over 600 employees and the potential for community spread. As a result, Chautauqua County Department of Health and the County Executive’s Office performed its due diligence to make sure the information was accurate, concise, and validated before alerting the public.

As of Aug. 28, the following information is proven true in Chautauqua County:

¯ We had 82 active cases with no hospitalizations associated with Fieldbrook Foods

¯ In total we had 360 total confirmed cases and 32,584 negative test results.

¯ In total, we had 32,944 tests conducted in Chautauqua County giving us an infection rate of 1.09%.

As is evident by our reporting throughout this crisis, the Chautauqua County Health Department and Chautauqua County Executive’s Office is committed to providing accurate, up to date information that protects all residents of Chautauqua County.

I thank the staff of the Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services, Chautauqua County Office of Emergency Services, Chautauqua County EMS, Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, first responders throughout Chautauqua County and all of our dedicated partners who have worked tirelessly around the clock to carry out our common mission of protecting the health and safety of all Chautauqua County residents and visitors during this pandemic.


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