Madison County Health Department once again did a walk through of the Green Empire Farms in Oneida, New York where 87 employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

Several of the employees that tested positive reside in local hotels.

A thorough investigation of Green Empire Farms show many protocols are in place to limit the possible spread of COVID-19, including taking employees temperatures when they arrive to work, hand sanitizer and boot sanitization stations, spaced out working stations, limit number of people on breaks and signs in the break rooms.

Prior to March 22, 2020 the Health Department was not aware migrant workers were living in hotels, according to a press release. The Madison County Health Department had been working with Green Empire Farms to permit and inspect onsite living facilities that are still not finished. At no time was a permit requested or was one issued for migrant farmworker housing at either hotel in Madison County.

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The Health Department was aware at the end of March some contractors were living in the local hotels that worked in various capacities at the greenhouses. The MCDOH is responsible for permitting hotels, and in that capacity these hotels met those requirements. "We were not of the understanding then that they were being used as migrant farmworker housing. Because we permit hotels, we had initial conversations with hotel staff about proper cleaning protocols of common areas and social distancing."

The Health Department became more aware of the living conditions when positive cases started to arise on April 30, 2020. The priority then was to find out how far the virus had spread. "We wanted to ensure we were getting everyone who needed it, the proper health care. Proper cleaning instructions were given to the hotel staff, cleaning supplies were given to those living in the rooms so cleaning staff does not have to enter COVID-19 positive rooms, and we have ensured that individuals are fed."

The MCDOH has contacted the New York State Department of Health for guidance regarding migrant farmworker housing compared to hotel patrons. "Once we have that information we will conduct an investigation to ensure the workers are in living conditions that adhere to New York State Migrant Farmworker Housing regulations and issue citations as needed."

“We want the public and the workers to know that we are doing everything we can to protect and enhance the health of the community,” said Public Health Director Eric Faisst. “Our community has been met by many hurdles we have never faced before. We will continue to grow and work hard get us all through to the end of this health crisis.”

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