Coronavirus Strikes Massachusetts Cannabis Company Employees

News – High Times

Two employees of a Massachusetts cannabis company have contracted the novel coronavirus, prompting other workers at the firm to criticize its safety measures during the continuing pandemic. State cannabis regulators said on Wednesday that they were “looking into” allegations that New England Treatment Access (NETA) failed to adequately protect its employees, according to a report from the Boston Globe.

NETA has confirmed that two employees, one at a dispensary in Northampton and another at a cultivation and processing facility in Franklin, tested positive for the virus this week. A spokesman said in a statement from the company that the sick worker at the Franklin operation, “whom we will continue to support in every way we can, practiced excellent public health and social responsibility by self-identifying symptoms, notifying their manager upon feeling ill, pursuing COVID-19 testing, taking appropriate hygienic precautions, and self-quarantining.”

The statement added that the Northampton employee had followed the same measures. NETA also said that state and local health officials were notified of the positive test results in accordance with state regulations. 

The company said that there was no chance that the Franklin employee had contaminated any cannabis products. NETA also said that it hired a service to perform a deep cleaning of the production facility and that it was adequately protecting the health of its workers, a claim the company said was supported by many employees.

Some Workers Call For Better Safety Measures

But some workers at the Franklin facility are calling that assertion into question and said that they are concerned that they may have been exposed to the coronavirus by their coworker. Employees noted that an appreciation breakfast serving food from a common table had been held for all of the employees in the building last week.

The workers also said that social distancing protocols enacted at the facility are impractical and unevenly enforced. They said locker rooms where employees changed their clothes were crowded with a dozen or even more workers at a time. Employees were also suspicious of the reported deep cleaning, which they said was completed while the facility was still in operation.

A cannabis cultivation employee, who requested anonymity to protect his job, said that changes should be made at NETA’s Franklin facility.

“We’ve been telling management for weeks that they have to do something about it,” he said. “We’re all piled on top of each other here. They’re more worried about money than the health of their employees and patients.”

“I don’t want to see people die because of the negligence of this company,” the cultivator added. “It’s really disheartening that I have to say that, but here I am.”

Barbara Carrapichano, a patient adviser at NETA’s dispensary in Brookline, said that the company hasn’t given the employees masks or installed partitions between patients and workers. She and other employees would like to see management do a better job of communicating safety protocols, check the temperature of workers before they begin a shift, and do a better job of sanitizing shared equipment.

“We see enough people that we could be a vector for this [virus] to spread exponentially,” Carrapichano said. “NETA has not set up an adequate response whatsoever. I have an auto-immune disorder myself and I’m putting myself at risk every time I walk through those doors. My biggest concern is the people — everyone involved.”

A spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission said on Wednesday that the agency is “deeply concerned about COVID-19’s threats to patients, customers, employees, agency staff, and all residents of the Commonwealth. We are aware of the complaint and looking into it.”

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