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'Clusters' of COVID-19 cases found on Missaukee farms, health officials won't say how many or where

Max Johnston
Interlochen Public Radio

Several farms in Missaukee County have clusters of COVID-19 cases among workers, according to District Health Department #10. 

In a press release Thursday the department said it's investigating the situation and contacting people that could have been exposed to the virus.

The health department is not providing the names of the farms, how many workers are infected and couldn't say whether or not they are still operating.

"Every farm is different and it's up to them how they choose to proceed, as far as operating goes," Public Information Officer Jeannine Taylor says.

The farms are isolating infected employees and taking precautions to prevent further contamination. Taylor says the health department is focusing on contact-tracing and monitoring the virus' spread.

"We are actively working with these farms to provide guidance and education in order to prevent further spread,” Health Officer Kevin Hughes said via press release. "We continue to monitor the situation to ensure the safety and well-being of all residents in the community."

Food and agriculture workers are considered "essential" and have been allowed to work under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's "stay at home" executive order. To stay open under the order farms have to meet certain health and safety guidelines, like keeping employees at least six feet apart and restricting the number of workers at job sites.

Farms in Michigan are not required to report COVID-19 cases to the state, according to a Michigan Department of Health and Human Safety spokesman.

But Craig Anderson, manager of Agircultural Labor and Safety Services with the Michigan Farm Bureau, says some of those farms do have federal reporting requirements. 

"If you are providing housing there is a specific requirement for the reporting of communicable diseases," Anderson said. "If there's a belief it's a workplace-generated illness there is also a provision for reporting."

As of Thursday afternoon, Missaukee County had 12 confirmed coronavirus cases and one related death, according to the state.

Max came to IPR in 2017 as an environmental intern. In 2018, he returned to the station as a reporter and quickly took on leadership roles as Interim News Director and eventually Assignment Editor. Before joining IPR, Max worked as a news director and reporter at Michigan State University's student radio station WDBM. In 2018, he reported on a Title IX dispute with MSU in his story "Prompt, Thorough and Impartial." His work has also been heard on Michigan Radio, WDBM and WKAR in East Lansing and NPR.