Nine people who work for Caldwell County’s largest private employer tested positive for COVID-19.

Merchants Distributors Inc., which operates a large wholesale grocery distribution center in a portion of Hickory that is in Caldwell County southeast of Granite Falls, reported the cluster of cases at its facility. A cluster is defined as five or more cases in close proximity.

The first case was reported on Sept. 29, said Paige Counts, the county’s public information officer.

MDI said in a press release that contact tracing indicates that a large portion of the people who tested positive were exposed to the virus outside of work. MDI is working to educate employees about public health guidelines for COVID-19, the press release said.

All who have tested positive and those they have had close contact with are isolating at home, the company said.

There are four other active clusters of cases in the county: Poarch Chapel Missionary Methodist Church, Marx Industry, West Lenoir Baptist Church, and the Caldwell County Courthouse all have had at least five cases with illness onsets or positive results within a two-week period. The county did not release how many cases are associated with each cluster.

Thirty-nine cases of COVID-19 were reported on Wednesday, bringing the county’s total number of confirmed cases to 1,873. Twenty-nine people have died from the virus.

Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.

Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.