ELLSWORTH – The state is tracking an outbreak of COVID-19 at another Hancock County blueberry company, Merrill Blueberry Farms in Ellsworth, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday, in addition to the outbreak reported among workers at Hancock Foods in Hancock earlier in the week.
Three cases have been reported among staff at Merrill Blueberry Farms, said Dr. Shah, and an additional three cases (a total of 8) have been reported among workers at Hancock Foods, which is owned by Allen Blueberry, according to tax records.
Dr. Shah said on Thursday that many migrant workers list their state of residence as where they are working at the time, which is why workers coming from elsewhere may be listed in case counts in Maine.
“Given that they themselves indicate that their state of residence is Maine, we count them as part of Maine’s cases,” he said.
The cases reported at Merrill Blueberry are a result of “proactive testing,” said Dr. Shah.
Andrew Sankey, director of the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency, in an email on Wednesday afternoon said that the cases among workers at Hancock Foods were discovered after “migrant workers from Florida arrived in Hancock County in support of the coming blueberry harvest. Testing of these persons was performed on-site by the Maine Mobile Health Program (a component of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services) with five positive cases being identified. Subsequently, these five individuals, as well as all other migrant passengers were relocated later on Monday to a facility in Bangor, whereby they remain to quarantine, receive shelter, and other related care needs.”
Dr. Shah declined to release more information on the cases at Merrill Blueberry Farms on Thursday.
Governor Janet Mills noted that migrant workers have been coming to Maine “for a couple of months” and said, “I don’t know that there’s justification for employers to be fearful of migrant labor per se more than any other group.”
Dr. Shah said that farmworkers should be thought of in the same way “that you might think about any worker coming from other parts of the country” or tourist.
Workers arriving in Maine are required to follow the same guidelines for testing and quarantine as any visitor, said Shah. They should ideally be tested before they arrive, but can be tested upon arrival in Maine, as long as they quarantine while awaiting results.
“There’s nothing unique about them,” said Dr. Shah. “They’re just folks who might have been in another part of the country where there’s more COVID circulating.”