Sumitomo Rubber reports its first positive coronavirus case

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The Tonawanda facility has quarantined 54 employees at home as a precautionary measure.

Dan Telvock is an award-winning investigative producer and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of his work here.

Sumitomo Rubber has one employee who tested positive with coronavirus and 54 employees quarantined for precautionary reasons, company officials reported Tuesday.

“These are people coming off cruise ships or from other travel-related issues,” said Russell Pustulka, the company’s HR director.

“We send people home for colds and seasonal allergies. We are extra cautious.”

Pustulka described the positive coronavirus diagnosis as a “spouse to employee transfer.” He said the employee had not been to work since April 3.

Prior to Tuesday, all 21 employees who did get tested for coronavirus got results showing they were negative for the disease.  

Although the state did deem the facility an essential business that could operate during the coronavirus pandemic, the Tonawanda plant will temporarily shut down for two to three weeks beginning Monday to re-evaluate the steps they have taken and decide if they need to do more.

The decision to temporarily halt operations was made by company leaders, after numerous employees contacted WIVB with concerns about working at the facility during a health crisis.

So far, the company has screened 480 workers for various symptoms, such as head and body aches and pre-existing conditions. In addition, 112 workers have been screened for specific symptoms such as coughing, fevers or traveling to high-risk areas. 

“We had a large group that was caught in-between trips and for precautionary reasons we stopped them from coming into work,” Pustulka said.

The 54 quarantined employees each had one or more symptoms or may have been exposed to someone who potentially has the virus. A handful of employees are being quarantined for the flu and common cold. Pustulka said these employees are not on a strict 14-day quarantine. Rather, some may be out a few days to recover.

“Quarantines last until medical is comfortable to clear,” he said. 

The 1-million-square-foot facility has 1,300 employees.

An independent nurse hired by the company confirmed with the department of health that they are following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols by urging all employees to wear masks, maintain social distancing and wash hands for at least 20 seconds each time.

“We have received multiple calls and questions surrounding the health and welfare of Sumitomo team members,” the nurse wrote to employees.

“We pride ourselves on being a transparent organization and strive to keep our clients informed. I want to personally take time to ensure that you the associates have accurate information about the virus, its impact to date, and how our organization is responding.”

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