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22 new coronavirus cases linked to Dunkirk ice cream plant

Wells Enterprises
Fieldbrook Foods in Dunkirk has been confirmed as a coronavirus hot spot.

Chautauqua County officials say there is a COVID-19 hot spot at a Dunkirk ice cream plant, with 22 new cases and more expected in an all-out push to test everyone connected with Fieldbrook Foods.

Fieldbrook is a major employer in the Dunkirk area and the company had a major expansion underway earlier this year. When parent company Wells Enterprises purchased Fieldbrook last year, the combined companies were supposed to have 3,800 workers and make 200 million gallons of ice cream a year. Wells is probably best known as the maker of Blue Bunny ice cream.

The company said since the pandemic started, 4% of the employees in the plant have tested positive for the coronavirus. Chautauqua County Executive P.J. Wendel said Wells is fully cooperating in dealing with the outbreak.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Chautauqua County Executive P.J. Wendel (l) and Public Health Director Christine Schuyler (r) announce the new coronavirus cases.

"Upon identifying the potential cluster of cases, the county has been working with Fieldbrook's local management, as well as Wells Enterprises, based in Iowa, the corporate office, to mitigate further spread and to review their COVID-19 safety and screening protocols," he said. "They have been very cooperative in their efforts, including collaborating with Chautauqua County and the New York State Department of Health, to conduct COVID-19 testing for all employees."

Chautauqua County Public Health Director Christine Schuyler said blaming the company would be a mistake. She said workers in any workplace are friends and may socialize out of work, and might not follow all of the social distancing and mask rules when outside of where the employer enforces rules.

"Outside of the workday can negatively impact us," she said. "That's why we continually have been saying to avoid large gatherings, to make sure you're washing your hands and you're wearing your mask and when you are around someone, especially in a confined space for the longer length time, the greater the chance is that you are going to catch any communicable disease."

Wendel said this should end if everyone follows the rules.

"If we are not diligent and if we are not following the instructions we are given, yes, it could jeopardize things down the road," he said. "County Executive Poloncarz even stated if people want to see a Bills football game live, then we need to step it up a little. As of right now, we're continuing in a downward trend, we'll be limited."

Fifteen of the cases were reported just Monday. That adds to 130 county residents who are under quarantine or isolation and 414 who are supposed to be in domestic traveler quarantine from coming from a state listed on Albany's travel advisory.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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