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Email Content: Poultry Industry News, Comments and more by Simon M. Shane

COVID-19 Incidence Rates in Packing Plants an Opportunity for Epidemiologic Studies


As with cruise ships, certain packing plants have recorded higher levels of COVID-19 infection among workers compared with other plants for reasons that are not clearly defined.  Certainly when we have reached "the other side" and stability in the meat and poultry industries has been restored, studies can be conducted that will define the relative role of processing plants, the community, worker housing, commuting and other risk factors contributing to infection. 


Clearly there should be a focus on the JBS plant in Greeley, CO.  This plant recorded 280 diagnosed infections with seven fatalities.  It is considered critical that extensive testing for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for COVID-19 should be carried out following re-opening of the facility.  This will enable plant management to identify both asymptomatic and symptomatic carriers so that they and their contacts can be quarantined.  Subsequently the presence of antibodies can be determined by serologic assays, providing valuable information on the temporal and spatial level of exposure of workers and their families. 


It is apparent that there were conflicts between JBS management and the Weld County and Colorado State health officials.  Colorado Governor Jared Polis stated that the management of the plant promised to test employees but failed to follow through.  A spokesperson for the Weld County Public Health Department stated "JBS officials backed away from an initial plan to test all employees and decided to close the plant after a warning was issued on April 10th, reopening at the end of April".


Governor Polis recently stated, "to be clear, if JBS is willing to test all employees we would be happy to work with them on making sure they have the supplies to do that".  He added "we can't just go on their premises and test people, that’s why we did it a mile away".


Since the first diagnosed case in Colorado at the beginning of March, the state has recorded 17,800 diagnosed cases with 921 fatalities for a rate of 5.2 percent that is similar to the U.S. apparent fatality rate of 6 percent based on 73,000 deaths resulting from 1.2 million cases. The actual number of cases and actual fatalities since March are presumably far higher than those diagnosed given the dearth of antigen testing and deficiencies in determining the cause of death since the beginning of the outbreak.

Copyright © 2020 Simon M. Shane