On Friday, an employee at the Daikin Applied facility in Owatonna tested positive for COVID-19. The air conditioning manufacturing company employs more than 1,200 people between its Owatonna and Faribault facilities and is considered an essential business during the COVID-19 pandemic for supplying health care facilities with HVAC equipment and services. (Annie Granlund/People’s Press)

An employee at Daikin Applied in Owatonna has tested positive for COVID-19, according to the company’s communications director.

The employee received a positive diagnosis for the novel coronavirus on Friday, said Julia Schroeder. The employee and those who were potentially exposed to the individual are now on paid leave through April 26 to self-isolate, per the company’s procedures and Minnesota Department of Health guidelines and recommendations. The individual who tested positive for the virus will remain in quarantine until they’re healthy.

“We are coordinating with the Department of Health to identify any team members who were in close contact with the individual,” Schroeder said. “Our concern is the safety and wellbeing of our employees and we don’t believe that this poses any further risk.”

Schroeder added that since the confirmation of the positive test result, the company has followed both Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Environmental Protection Agency standards and guidelines to clean and sanitize work stations and other areas that the employee self-reported having been in. She said that they will continue to go “above and beyond” the necessary measures to stay ahead of any potential outbreak in the facility.

In the last week, two pork processing plants have experienced rapid spread of COVID-19 in their facilities – one in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and another in Worthington, Minnesota. In Sioux Falls, at least 634 employees had tested positive as of Friday, according to NPR. A union representative for the Worthington plant confirmed that 19 cases of the virus had been reported as of Friday among the staff.

“We have been tracking those [cases], as I’m sure every business is,” Schroeder said. “We are absolutely taking the necessary steps so that we can continue to be operational.”

Daikin has been designated as an essential business during the COVID-19 pandemic because it supplies HVAC equipment, technology and services to health care facilities, according to Schroeder. She said that in order to keep its facilities operational its has had to be “unique and creative” in how it promotes social distancing among employees while on site. One of the tactics Schroeder said they have used is converting training rooms into additional break rooms so that employees can practice adequate social distances while on break.

“We have also created protocol for around the time clock so that people aren’t standing in close proximity while punching in and out of work,” Schroeder said. “We have also minimized our shift-overlap meetings and doing everything virtually or over the phone when we can. We’re really trying to limit all face-to-face opportunities and interactions.”

If employees are feeling ill or concerned about working during the COVID-19 pandemic, Schroeder said that the company has strongly encouraged its staff to take advantage of their sick leave.

“They have a collective bargaining agreement so they have very clearly outlined time away from work guidelines and benefits,” Schroeder said. “It is cold and flu season, so we understand the concern. We just encourage employees to voice their concerns to their leadership and managers.”

“Our commitment to our employee – and our customers – remains just as strong as ever,” she continued. “We will continue to take the necessary steps and more.”

Daikin Applied currently employs 500 people at its Owatonna location and 710 people in Faribault.

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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