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Criticizes Delayed Response to Fieldbrook Foods Outbreak

Dunkirk, NY: Today, Richard J. Morrisroe raised concerns about the appointed interim Chautauqua County Executive’s ability to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. He questioned PJ Wendel’s lack of transparency and timeliness in addressing 49 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Fieldbrook Foods plant in Dunkirk. Morrisroe also called for free rapid testing for every public school employee and student ahead of the new school year.

At a press conference over the weekend, Wendel defended the two weeks it took him to publicly acknowledge the cluster by saying he wanted to prevent public concern and overreaction by the community.

“There is no such thing as going overboard in communicating with the public about preventable threats to their health.” Morrisroe said in response Wendell’s statements. “The time to prepare for a crisis is before it happens. The unelected County Executive had more than five months to plan for a county COVID cluster and his lack of transparency and leadership is very troubling.”

This COVID cluster comes weeks ahead of the new school year where thousands of children will be back in classrooms for the first time since March. School districts around the country are experiencing spikes in confirmed cases of COVID-19 as they return to in-person instruction. Most children who become infected will be asymptomatic or experience a mild version of the illness, but they can be superspreaders.

“We deserved to know what happened at the Fieldbrook Farms plant within days, not weeks. The secrecy and inaction of county officials and plant management endangered lives and threatens school reopening. Their ongoing incompetence is a threat to our long-term economic recovery,” said Morrisroe. “I call on PJ Wendel to provide free, rapid testing for every public school student and employee before school starts. We cannot afford to play fast and loose with this virus.”

Morrisroe outlined some steps he would have taken to immediately address the public health crisis as County Executive:

  • Dispatch a SWAT team of public health inspectors for onsite inspection at Fieldbrook within 24 hours of confirmed cases at the plant and prepare to suspend operations if the doors weren’t open for inspection and employees were not provided with resources relating to the virus, including Spanish speakers and translation services.
  • Hold a public information session announcing county wide testing within 48 hours and sharing information vital to the public who may have encountered the infected individual.
  • Coordinate with regional county executives and state officials on best practices for testing and contract tracing, PPE supplies.
  • Redirect county personnel to the County Department of Health in coordination with union representatives and hire temporary contract tracers and frontline personnel if there are still not enough resources to stop the spread of the virus.
  • Ensure that every frontline worker, even temporary workers, have health insurance, rapid testing, and worker protections.
  • Provide every public school employee and student with free rapid testing.

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Richard J. Morrisroe is the endorsed Democratic & Working Families candidate for Chautauqua County Executive. He serves as the City Attorney for the City of Dunkirk. Prior to returning to school and practicing law, Rich was a banker, a Spanish teacher, an executive director of a housing nonprofit agency, a Realtor, a drug prevention specialist, and a legislative aide. Rich and his wife Iris live with their two children and his mother-in-law in Dunkirk.

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