Brown County Public Health reports 624 COVID-19 cases, meat packaging facilities 'following guidance properly'

Courtesy: Associated Press
Courtesy: Associated Press(WBAY)
Published: Apr. 24, 2020 at 5:22 PM CDT
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Brown County Public Health officials point to "aggressive testing" for the spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Officials report a new total of 624 cases on Friday which is up 107 from Thursday.

Of those cases, 189 are linked to JBS, and 23 are linked to Salm Partners in Denmark. American Foods Group experienced an increase of 20 cases linked to the facility from Thursday with the new number at 75 cases. These number include employees of the plants and their immediate family members.

Friday night we talked to Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach about the large outbreak in coronavirus cases in the county. State and local health and government officials say there are no plans to tell the meat packing plants to close.

Streckenbach says JBS is doing what needs to be done. "From Brown County's perspective and what we can enforce and what we can operate from in terms of guidelines, everything that's been put forth by the state, the CDC and the county, we verified through walkthrough that the company has done what they stated they were going to do based on the recommendations we provided. Based on that perspective, at this point, we feel comfortable about what they're doing."

Salm Partners joins American Foods Group and JBS in offering free COVID-19 testing to all 500 employees. The meat packaging facility first conducted a pilot testing program on Tuesday. The testing will happen at the end of each work shift, and while it is voluntary, employees who do agree to test will receive an extra hour of pay.

"The aggressive testing and screening protocols that all three facilities have taken is working," said Claire Paprocki with the Brown County Health Department. "Sites are seeing fewer employees show symptoms of COVID-19 upon arrival for their shift at work."

Salm Partners expects test results to come in early next week.

A company spokesperson confirms 9 of the 11 employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 are back at work adding they do no believe anyone contracted the virus on the job.

"Based on the tours that we conducted this week at all three facilities and the information that was gathered by Public Health, the CDC, and Wisconsin Department of Health Services, it has been determined that all three facilities, JBS, American Foods Group, and Salm Partners are following guidance properly," said Paprocki.

She praises the plants for enforcing social distancing and preventive measures to ensure a safe and health workplace for their employees.

Sources at JBS tell Action 2 News working conditions are "shoulder-to-shoulder" and personal protective equipment only became "a suggestion" after the first positive case of the virus was reported in the facility.

Paprocki says more cases are coming from the community than inside of the meat packaging facilities.

"Even just one person who goes to the grocery store a couple times a week and then goes home and then goes to work and then maybe goes over to their neighbor's house to have dinner, that one person can have a pretty large ripple effect on the community," said Paprocki.

The Brown County Health Department has not identified any other clusters of COVID-19 so far.

Public Health officials confirm no local cases have been linked to the election on April 7.

The Brown County Health Department plans to follow the state by reporting the number of recoveries in coming days.