CDC dispatches team to Eastern Shore poultry plants
COVID-19 cases rising among poultry workers at Tysons and Perdue facilities in Accomack County.
A team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is arriving in Virginia today to assist with containing COVID-19 outbreaks among workers at two large poultry processing plants in Accomack County, Gov. Ralph Northam announced during a news briefing Monday.
The plants, operated by Arkansas-based Tysons Foods Inc. and Maryland-based Perdue Farms, employ more than 3,000 people, many of whom are from Haiti and English is not their first language, Northam said.
A Perdue worker reportedly died from the disease last week, according to the Eastern Shore Post.
Virginia has 10 such poultry processing plants of varying sizes, mostly located on the Eastern Shore and in the Shenandoah Valley, the governor added, and the commonwealth has more than 120 federally inspected meat processing plants statewide.
“These poultry plants are a vital part of our food supply chain, providing food to millions of people on the East Coast. But the health of the people who work in these plants is also critically important,” Northam said. “While the companies here in Virginia are taking additional safety measures inside their facilities to protect their workers and keep the plants operational, I am very concerned about the continued rise in cases.”
Poultry plants in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware on the Delmarva Peninsula have been experiencing similar COVID-19 outbreaks, Northam said, and he and the governors of Maryland and Delaware wrote a joint letter to President Donald Trump requesting a “fully coordinated approach” from the federal government to deal with the rapidly developing outbreaks. In particular, Northam expressed concerns that medical facilities on the Eastern Shore could quickly become overwhelmed if the situation isn’t contained.
The CDC team arriving Monday will include epidemiologists, contact tracers and language specialists who speak Haitian Creole, the governor said. The team will assist the Virginia Department of Health and local health departments, Northam said, “with conducting wider-scale testing to “determine the actual scope of the problem” at the poultry plants and take steps to contain the outbreaks.
On Sunday, U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the CDC issued joint guidelines to meat processing plants, aimed at protecting factory workers from contracting COVID-19.
Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, Tysons Foods and JBS USA have closed 15 meat processing plants across the nation due to coronavirus infections, leading to a roughly 25% cut in national pork production. An April 25 report by The Washington Post found that the three major meat companies had failed to provide protective equipment to all workers in the crowded factories. An employee at a Smithfield Foods plant in Missouri and members of a workers’ rights group sued the company, charging that Smithfield Foods is operating the plant “in a manner that contributes to the spread of disease.” As of Friday, there were no confirmed cases at the Missouri plant, however more than 800 COVID-19 cases were linked to an outbreak earlier this month at a Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Smithfield Foods factory where more than 600 employees tested positive for COVID-19.