Montgomery County

Counties, state track COVID-19 cluster at Fonda factory

38 employees test positive; Cuomo hails detective work of contact tracers there and 100 miles away in Oswego County
Employees are lined up outside the Keymark factory in Fonda on Friday afternoon.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Employees are lined up outside the Keymark factory in Fonda on Friday afternoon.

Categories: News

FONDA — County and state officials say the rapid response and detective work into an infection cluster at a Fonda manufacturing site can serve as a model for the nation as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens in many other states.

More than three dozen employees at Keymark Corporation’s Cayadutta Street plant have tested positive over the last week. Only a few were Montgomery County residents, however — the rest were distributed among other counties across the region, making it hard for any single county to identify and track the cluster.

Keymark managers and the state Health Department worked with the counties’ departments of health to track the infections, isolate the infected people, trace those who’d been in sustained contact and quarantine them.

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During a conference call with reporters Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo held it up as a success story, and a cautionary tale about relaxing precautions. Upstate New York — particularly smaller counties and communities — has been affected by the pandemic much less seriously than downstate but is not invulnerable.

Two clusters — the one at Keymark and one at an apple-packaging plant in Oswego County — both caused small upticks in virus data in their respective regions.

Clusters are inevitable, the governor said, but the rapid and effective response that kept these two from growing further is a good sign.

The cluster at the apple processing plant appears to have begun in mid-June. As of Friday, 82 of 179 employees had tested positive, some of them residents of Onondaga and Oneida counties.

The cluster at Keymark, which manufactures aluminum products in Fonda, began to materialize about a week ago and may have been connected to the apple plant — a number of Keymark employees live in Oneida County.

As of Friday, 38 of 530 employees had tested positive, and others were still awaiting test results. About 200 remaining employees were being tested Friday at the factory, which was idled.

Keymark Human Resources Director Keith Gros said Friday that the company did everything it could to block transmission of disease on site.

“And we did well for 100 days,” he said. “What we don’t control is what people do when they’re not at work.”

The plant is in operation 24 hours a day under normal circumstances.

“We have had and continue to manage a pandemic response plan that we had put in place [before] all this happened,” Gros said.

This included temperature checks for arriving workers, symptom questions, masks, distancing, staggered shifts, a ban on visitors, a suspension of business travel and limits on use of the break room. The rising infection rate among employees was detected, but there was a limit to what the company could do beyond its perimeter.

“When we started picking up these cases, the alarms go off and we have to expand it and ask for additional help. That’s really where the assistance of the state comes in.”

 

“This is the way it’s supposed to happen,” Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort said. “This work is the work that prevents clusters from becoming outbreaks. It was exciting to be part of.”

Only five of the Keymark employees who’ve tested positive are Montgomery County residents, he said, so county health officials needed help beyond their borders from other health departments, both state and local.

Keymark had perhaps the biggest role of all, Ossenfort said.

He’s optimistic the cluster will be contained.

“We’re in a good spot because of the work that has been done,” he said.

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