BREAKING: Covid-19 outbreak of 26 cases in Addison County linked to Champlain Orchards

The outbreak is contained on the farm and not a threat to the public or college, state health officials say

By Riley Board

An outbreak of 26 new Covid-19 cases in Addison County is contained to Champlain Orchards in Shoreham. State health officials say that students and the public are not at risk. (Anna Lueck)

UPDATE: Oct. 7 

An additional Champlain Orchards employee has tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total up to 27.

On the afternoon of Oct. 5, College Physician Mark Peluso told students in an all-campus email announcement that, “initial safety assessments indicate that the risk to the College community on campus is low at this time.” He stressed continued vigilance and adherence to Covid-19 safety protocols.

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Twenty-six new Covid-19 cases were reported today in Addison County by the Vermont Department of Health, a striking number in a state that consistently reports just a handful of cases per day. The 26 cases are related to an outbreak among migrant farmworkers at Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, about 20 minutes from the college. Currently, one of those workers is hospitalized, and many are not showing symptoms. 

The Health Department officials say the public and college aren’t at risk. The college has yet to make a public statement about the outbreak.

At an Oct. 5 press conference, the state’s Health Commissioner Mark Levine said that the outbreak is being contained. 

“At this time there is no known risk to the public. If you’ve been apple picking in the past couple of weeks or visited the farmstand, you are not at risk,” Levine said. 

State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso explained that they are confident that no member of the public who picked their own apples at Champlain Orchards is at risk, because of a thorough contact tracing process and a review of the processes at the orchard. 

Levine says that after one worker at the farm tested positive, the state set up a testing site at Champlain Orchards. Contract tracing is underway, and the owner of the orchard is collaborating with the state. 

All of the individuals who tested positive were migrant farm workers, many of them H-2A visa holders from Jamaica. The H-2A program brings seasonal migrant workers, primarily from the Caribbean, for temporary agricultural work in the United States. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Alyson Eastman said that the orchard is at peak season, and has around 90 employees. Fifty-five of them are H-2A workers. 

The workers had just completed their 14-day mandated quarantine after arriving in the state. They arrived on Sept. 14 and their quarantine ended on Sept. 28.

Champlain Orchards closed to the public over the weekend.

Ben Truman, the spokesperson for the Vermont Health Department, told The Campus that the event is not linked to the college in any way and is not a risk to the public in regard to food consumption. 

College Physician Mark Peluso did not return requests for comment on advisories for students by publication time. 

Middlebury is currently in its second phase of reopening, which allows students to travel within Addison County. The college has had no active student cases for weeks, and announced one employee case on Sept. 28, which they say posed a low risk to students due to the ‘situational circumstances’. 

Addison County only reported six cases in the entire month of September, and a cumulative 15 cases in the summer months of June, July and August. This outbreak marks the single greatest number of cases in a day that the county has seen throughout the pandemic by a wide margin. 

The state of Vermont reported 33 total new cases today, the highest increase reported in a single day since June.