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Keymark COVID cases up

77 cases as of Monday

FONDA — Keymark now has about 77 employees who tested positive for COVID-19, and that may be connected to a cluster of positive cases from an apple packaging plant in Oswego County.

According to a press release issued by the governor’s office, the New York State Department of Health is tracking two COVID-19 clusters at two businesses in upstate New York — Keymark in Montgomery County and an apple packaging plant in Oswego County.

According to the release, which was issued on Friday, there have been 37 positive cases from Keymark with additional test results still pending, and 200 remaining employees were being tested on Friday. However, by Monday afternoon that number of total positive cases went up to 77 confirmed positive with eight of those positives being Montgomery County residents, according to Montgomery County officials. Out of the facility’s 681 employees, 573 have been tested and 108 are awaiting results.

At Keymark, there are four 24-hour shifts and there are two buildings. A majority of those who tested positive were associated with one shift and in one of its two buildings. A majority are also residents in Utica in Oneida County which is being traced back to a cluster of cases of employees who work at an apple packaging plant in Oswego County.

At that business in Oswego County, 82 of 179 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Many of those employees reside in either Onondaga County or Oneida County, contributing to the recent uptick in confirmed positive cases and percentage of positive test results in both counties and in the central New York and Mohawk Valley regions. As part of the contact tracing efforts related to the Oswego County apple packaging plant, it was revealed that several employees of the plant may have contributed to the COVID-19 cases at Keymark. The apple packaging plant is remaining closed as the cluster is being investigated and contained.

Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort, Montgomery County Public Health Director Sara Boerenko and Montgomery County Sheriff Jeff Smith gave their daily update on Monday discussing the cluster at Keymark.

“This was more of an issue of the social and cultural network of folks that work at this facility. A lot of them travel from Utica and other areas and are very close-knit as far as their social circle,” Ossenfort said. “When you have people commuting together, people living together, that’s when this can spread fast.”

He said occupational clusters are going to happen and commended Boerenko and the public health team for their fast acting response to the outbreak of cases, are continuing to do testing, contact tracing and isolate those who test positive to contain the cluster.

Boerenko said the next step is to continue to support the business.

“They’re a major business in our county, they’re very important to our community, so what we’ve been doing is continuing to work with the health and safety officer at the facility to ensure that they have the items that they need not only for themselves but for their employees,” Boerenko said. “Our emergency management was able to get hand sanitizer for all the [681] employees. We were able to get additional PPEs for the employees as needed and we’ve really been able to look over their safety plan. As a result of this the one good thing that came out was we were able to look at their Pandemic and Infection Control plan and make a few suggestions, but they’ve done other things.”

She said Keymark had taken extra steps to keep its employees safe such as an entire body scan thermometer where employees can put their face in a mirror and it scans their body temperature; put protocols in place to ask about other diseases that easily spread through factories.

“The fact that we’ve been able to keep a major business like Keymark without having an infection for 100 days, I think is a [huge] win for us because they have been doing everything that they needed to do to prevent an occupational hazard,” Boerenko said.

Ossenfort asks for community members to continue to wear masks when not socially distancing and to continue to follow other guidelines to help prevent the spread, and so the state does not see an increase in COVID-19 cases like Texas, Florida Arizona and other states have.

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