A few employees stand outside Hancock Foods processing warehouse in the town's Washington Junction neighborhood on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

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A Hancock County company that processes and packages blueberries has detected five cases of the coronavirus among migrant workers it had hired to rake blueberries.

Hancock Foods tested the employees as a precautionary measure before they began work and interacted with other employees, said Kim Allen, an official with the company, which is located in the Washington Junction neighborhood of the town of Hancock, just east of the Ellsworth city line.

Additional testing is now underway and support services are being offered to employees of the company, said Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hancock Foods is owned by Allen’s Blueberry Freezer, based in Ellsworth.

“We were bringing in a crew of migrant workers for the blueberry harvest,” Allen said.

The workers are being quarantined under the supervision of the Maine Mobile Health Program, a nonprofit health care agency that serves seasonal farm workers.

Until those who tested positive get a clean bill of health, the company will have to find other workers, Allen said. Hancock Foods does not plan to bring in any more migrant workers, but intends to fill remaining raker positions with local residents, she said.

Hancock County has seen a low number of coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic. The county has the third lowest rate of coronavirus infections in the state, according to Maine CDC data. As of late Monday, the county had seen 18 cases total among residents, one death and two hospitalizations.

Coronavirus infections among migrant workers, however, have been common throughout the pandemic as they have gradually moved north to tend to different crops.

The outbreak at Hancock Foods was one of three new coronavirus outbreaks the Maine CDC reported Tuesday.

One of those outbreaks was at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, where 12 cases — 10 among staff and two among patients — were reported. The Maine CDC is still investigating that outbreak, but it appears that a patient introduced the coronavirus to the facility before it spread, Shah said.

The other outbreak, of three cases, was reported at Sappi’s paper mill in Westbrook.

The state has seen more outbreaks of the coronavirus at workplaces in recent weeks as Maine’s economy has gradually reopened. Earlier in the pandemic, outbreaks at nursing homes and group homes where people with intellectual disabilities live were more common.

Bill Trotter

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....