State-mandated coronavirus testing at Gebbers Farms has so far showed a relatively low infection rate among employees, which the Brewster, Washington, fruit production company says proves its disease prevention measures have worked.

In late August, the Washington State Department of Health mandated the company test all of its employees after three employees died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

After testing more than 3,000 Gebbers employees, 22 workers — or 0.7 percent — were positive, said state Health Secretary John Wiesman in a Sept. 2 press telebriefing. “That’s a fairly low positivity rate,” Wiesman said.  It’s lower than the state of Washington’s 3.2 percent and U.S. nationwide rate of 5.5 percent , according to statistics on the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine coronavirus resource center website.

Wiesman called the testing at Gebbers complete.

Cass Gebbers, CEO of Gebbers Farms, said the statistics show the company’s protective measures are working.

“We have worked diligently for months now to protect our workers, and we are grateful to learn that the state’s test results show that what we have been doing has helped,” Gebbers said in a news release on Sept. 8. “Are we perfect? Of course not, but we are firmly committed to continual improvement. For perfection, we will all have to wait for a vaccine.”

In February, Gebbers Farms began providing workers bilingual education materials and personal protective equipment and following public health guidelines as they evolved, the release said. As the pandemic spread, the company consulted an infection disease specialist to develop protocols to limit workers’ exposure, such as quarantining new guest workers and those returning from vacation, and organizing employees into “pods.” They tried to arrange testing for all guest workers as they arrived in state but could not because of a lack of testing capacity at the time.

Three Gebbers farmworkers died earlier this year, all of them longtime employees. The state’s Department of Labor and Industries is investigating. On Aug. 19, the state mandated all agricultural employers who have a certain number of cases conduct broad-scale testing of their workers at each job site but insisted Gebbers test every single employee.

—by Ross Courtney