Meat factories in the U.S. and abroad have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus – and an outbreak at a South Dakota facility spread like wildfire to more than 900 workers in just five weeks, a report from the Centers for Disease Control reveals and Prevention (CDC).
Dozens of meat and poultry processing plants in the United States are overwhelmed by the corona virus, which is easily transmitted in confined spaces with a high density of people.
The South Dakota plant outbreak quickly exploded from a first case identified in March to 929 out of 3,635 workers on April 25.
Two of those workers died from the disease that ravaged the world.
Still, the processing plant didn’t close until April 12, after which 369 cases were already confirmed, a fact that the CDC is pushing for similar facilities to take more aggressive measures once an initial case is identified.
A coronavirus outbreak in a meat factory in Souh Dakota exploded from one case confirmed in March to 929 workers and 210 contacts in late April, a CDC report reveals
The CDC report does not list the meat plant described in the report, but the details are very similar to that of a Smithfield facility near Sioux Falls, which briefly became the largest coronavirus hotspot in the U.S. in April.
After the South Dakota Department of Health confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the factory on March 24, the meat plant traced and tested the person’s contacts there.
On April 2, that process had led to the diagnosis of 19 cases of coronavirus.
After identifying that significant cluster, the facility stepped up its screening and tested anyone with coronavirus-like symptoms such as cough, fever, or shortness of breath.
Even that modestly increased effort in testing produced a huge number of additional infections.
On April 11 – just two and a half weeks after the first case was identified – 369 workers in the factory had coronavirus.
Nealy 370 people in the factory were already infected by the time it started phased closure on April 12, a CDC chart shows
Ten cases had prompted testing. Hundreds were the reason to close the facility, which started on April 12.
But the shutdown happened in stages, and much of the damage was likely done.
By the time the CDC ended the factory’s investigation – at the request of the state health service – 929 people had been infected.
That represented more than a quarter of the total workforce of the meat processing factory.
According to the CDC report, an average of 67 new cases per day were identified at the peak of the facility’s outbreak.
Unsurprisingly, the virus spread most quickly through three departments where employees were unable to keep a distance of two meters between them during their long working days.
The infection most quickly spread to wards such as a ‘cut-off’ section of the facility where workers are less than two meters apart (file)
Nearly 40 employees and nine contractors had to be hospitalized.
Two of the employees died.
Infectious disease experts believe that people who are repeatedly exposed to a greater amount of coronavirus are more likely to become seriously ill if they contract coronavirus.
A meat plant is a perfect Petri dish for infections in that sense, as it spreads to workers who return day after day to work shoulder to shoulder in the confines of the facility.
In April, meat factories like the one in South Dakota were considered to be the driving force behind coronavirus hotspots in the United States.
The CDC report sheds light on how outbreaks spread beyond the walls of the factories themselves.
Of the 2403 contacts of the meat factory workers, 210 – about 10 percent – also contracted the corona virus, illustrating how the only facility fueled the outbreak of the larger community.
“This major outbreak of COVID-19 among meat processing plant workers highlights the potential for rapid transfer of SARS-CoV-2 in these types of facilities,” the CDC researchers wrote in their report.
“Factors that may have contributed to employee infection in this facility include high employee density at work and in common areas, long-term close contact between employees during a shift, and substantial SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the surrounding community.”