Dole plant will not shut down after 230 workers test positive for COVID-19

Dole plant will not shut down after 230 workers test positive for COVID-19
Dole Pre-Packaged salad sits on the shelf at a grocery store. Packaged salad, which was near non-existent a decade ago, became the second fastest selling item on grocery shelves behind bottle water in 2003. Overall, the retail market for bagged salad is $2 billion annually. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — An employee at a Dole facility in Springfield, Ohio, said the salad packing plant should have shut down after an outbreak of COVID-19 among employees.

Barry Suttles told WHIO-TV that he has been working at the plant for about two and a half years.

He tested negative for the virus after a mass testing event of every Dole employee held at the plant on Saturday, but said not enough is being done to protect employees.

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Suttles said the plant did not shut down between the time of the mass testing event and when test results began to come in a few days later – leaving workers who tested positive for COVID-19 on the job and possibly spreading the virus to other employees.

He personally had to pull three employees off the floor to tell them their results were positive.

“The proper thing to do was shut the place down until all the tests came back,” he said. “Keep all the positives at home and then bring the other workers back.”

He was also upset that the plant didn’t shut down to do a deep cleaning after all the results were back in -- about 230 employees in total tested positive, which is more than a quarter of the plant’s workforce.

Suttles also said employees have been told that they will be working 12-hour shifts to make up for the deficit in employees.

Earlier this week, the Clark County Combined Health District said it did not have the authority to shut the plant down. Any decision on that level would need to be made by either the Ohio Department of Health or Dole.

The health district previously said that the Dole plant is doing “over and above” the recommendations handed down by the CDC and the governor’s office, WHIO-TV reported.

Suttles said from his point of view, that isn’t true. He cited concerns over social distancing and cleaning procedures.

A spokesperson for Dole said in an email, “From our conversations with CCCHD they maintain that the plant is not likely the source of transmission and closure is not warranted. They will be providing resources to conduct return-to-work screenings for our employees and are very focused on helping us get Dole back to work.”

Dole did confirm that as part of its contingency plan, employees would be working for longer hours.

Suttles said he cannot believe that with the amount of positive cases, the virus won’t continue to spread at the plant.

He’s worried about himself, as someone who has severe COPD, and also about his coworkers.

He said many of them are concerned about their safety too but are scared to speak out.

“Corporate America is worried about money. They’re not worried about their workers,” Suttles said. “I can get another job. I can’t get another life.”

Following the public release of the number of positive cases at the Dole plant, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine identified three zip codes in Clark County, where the Dole facility is located, as ‘hot spots.’

The governor recommended everyone living in those zip codes get tested for COVID-19.