Virus cluster ID’d at local factory

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This story has been updated to reflect a change in policy for employees wearing masks at Acuity Brands Lighting. 

A cluster of COVID-19 cases has been identified at a Crawfordsville factory, as public health authorities urge Hoosiers to maintain social distancing in limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

The cluster emerged at Acuity Brands Lighting, where 15 employees tested positive after more than 140 workers in two production departments were screened by the Montgomery County Health Department last week, the county announced Wednesday.

The department contacted the plant after a “number of cases over a period of a few weeks were linked with the facility among other commonalities,” according to a news release. The number of cases was not disclosed and the department did not elaborate on the similarities.

“Social exposures outside of the workplace” appear to have contributed to the cluster, the department added. Employees with positive cases were notified and placed in isolation, and co-workers with close contact have been identified and quarantined.

“We have been working closely with the facility’s Human Resources and medical staff since the first case was identified,” health department administrator Amber Reed said in a statement. “Acuity has been very cooperative and proactive in helping to identify close work contacts and applying quarantining protocols for employees.”

After the first cases were linked to Acuity, the department called in the state’s COVID-19 industrial strike team for a walk-through of the plant, Reed said in an interview. The local health department joined the team on the walk-through on May 18, three days before employees were tested.

Along with messaging about COVID-19 posted throughout the building, floors were marked to promote social distancing and multiple hand sanitizer stations were available. Employees have their temperatures checked upon arrival and are now required to wear masks. Face coverings were optional until earlier this month. 

“I think they’ve put as many preventative measures in place that you can hope for,” Reed said in the interview.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Acuity has staggered and rotated shifts and installed additional hand sanitation stations at its plants, according to a notice on the company’s website. Employees not working remotely are required to stay at home if they’re feeling ill and to self-quarantine if they believe they were exposed to the virus.

Reed said Tuesday the department is not aware of COVID-19 clusters at any other local factory.

The total number of confirmed local cases rose to 233 as two new cases were confirmed Wednesday. Contact tracing has begun in the latest cases. No new local COVID-19 related deaths were reported, with 17 deaths blamed on the virus. All but one of the deaths were traced to the cluster at Ben Hur Health & Rehabilitation.

Four more Ben Hur residents have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total at the long-term care facility to 59, the department said. No other local long-term care facilities have reported positive cases, according to the department.

As restrictions gradually loosen on public gatherings, the department said it’s still important to maintain 6 feet of distance in following federal social distancing guidelines.

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