UPDATE: 20% Test Positive For COVID-19 At Accomack County Factory

Local hospital officials have reported a spike in COVID-19 cases at the Perdue poultry processing plant on the Eastern Shore Wednesday April 29, 2020, in Accomac, Va. Coronavirus cases among workers at poultry plants on Virginia's Eastern Shore have become an increasing concern for local health officials. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

By Elle Meyers

May 27, 2020

UPDATE: 20% of employees who were tested at the Tyson’s plant in Accomack County were positive for coronavirus, but the company says many were asymptomatic. See the details below.

Factories can be breeding grounds for viruses, with close quarters on the production line and tools like fingerprint scanners to clock in and out of shifts. In Virginia, multiple factories have become hotspots for COVID-19. Below we have compiled information about the outbreaks and will update as news develops.

Perdue Farms 

After widespread testing of Perdue’s Eastern Shore factory, health officials found 18% of those tested were positive for coronavirus. Perdue Farms officials would not say exactly how many employees have tested positive for the virus, but shared that 1,835 tests were conducted at the facility.  

Hospital officials in Accomack County expressed concern in recent weeks about the growing number of cases coming from the two poultry plants. The Eastern Shore has become a hotspot for coronavirus cases in Virginia, even though it is a relatively rural area compared to most of the state. 

That also means hospital capacity is a problem in the area. The local hospital has 52 beds, six of which are intensive care beds. The hospital has had to move patients around to account for the growing number of cases, according to The Washington Post 10 patients were sent to a larger hospital further away to make room for additional patients.

Tyson Foods

UPDATE: Tyson Foods Inc. released results from its COVID-19 testing at its Accomack County facility on May 22.

Twenty percent of the 1,282 team members who work at the facility and were tested for COVID-19 were positive, for a total of 257 coronavirus cases. According to Tyson, the majority of people with positive cases did not show any symptoms and “otherwise would not have been identified.”

Team members who test positive received paid leave and are allowed to return to work only when they have met recovery criteria outlined by the CDC and by Tyson.

In weeks past, Tyson declined to say exactly how many of their employees at the facility had contracted COVID-19. They closed down its operations for three days in late April to deep clean the facility and employees were back at work the following Monday. Coronavirus cases at the Tyson and Perdue facilities make up the majority of the caseload in the county, according to health officials. 

“[Tyson’s] top priority remains the safety of our team members and plant communities while we work to continue fulfilling our role of feeding families across the country,” Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson told the Washington Post.

Tyson is providing surgical-style face coverings for its employees and at its Accomack location employees will be required to wear them, according to 13NewsNow. The plant is also making additional moves to protect their workforce by installing workstation and break room dividers, restricting visitor access and implementing the use of temporal thermometers. 

Maruchan Ramen

Health officials in Chesterfield County are unable to provide an updated number of coronavirus cases but WRIC-TV in Richmond reported that there are at least seven employees of the Maruchan Ramen factory that have tested positive for the coronavirus as of May 14. The factory has remained open a deep cleaning following guidelines from the CDC. 

“We can confirm the Maruchan Virginia report about employees testing positive for COVID-19 at their Chesterfield facility,” Chesterfield Health District Director Dr. Alexander Samuel said in a statement to Fox5. “Due to reporting restrictions specified in state code, the health department is unable to provide updated numbers.”

A spokesperson for Maruchan said in a statement that the facility will continue its sanitizing and cleaning protocols and the plant remains open.

The sick employees are reportedly quarantining at home while they recover from the virus. 

Across the U.S meat processing plants have become hotspots for the virus due to working conditions that often have employees close together in enclosed spaces. Although federal officials have ordered plants to stay open, 38 meatpacking plants have closed operations at some point since the beginning of the pandemic according to USA Today. A total of 167 plants have had outbreaks of the virus and 9,400 people have become sickened in connection to the facilities. 

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