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More Brown County COVID-19 cases linked to outbreaks at meat packing facilities

(WBKO)
Published: Apr. 29, 2020 at 1:22 PM CDT
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The number of positive cases of COVID-19 in Brown County grew slightly Wednesday.

Brown County Public Health reported 968 confirmed cases. That's up from 913 cases reported Tuesday--an increase of 55.

Oneida Nation's confirmed cases remained unchanged at seven, for a total of 975 cases.

The county's death total remains at three. Public Health Strategist Claire Paprocki said Wednesday that a patient who recently passed away was a 67-year-old man from the 54304 zip code. No other identifying information was released. The department could not say if the patient was an employee at one of the meat packaging companies with known outbreaks.

The county says confirmed cases among employees at Green Bay's JBS beef plant are at 262, up slightly from 255 cases reported Tuesday. There are 86 cases linked to the outbreak, up from 79 cases reported Tuesday. Linked cases are people who had close contact with infected employees and became sick.

American Foods Group in Green Bay has 170 confirmed cases, up from 145 on Tuesday, and 27 linked cases, up from seven on Tuesday.

Denmark-based sausage maker Salm Partners on Wednesday reported that 35 employees had tested positive for COVID-19. The company arranged voluntary testing after 18 employees were diagnosed with COVID-19. The tests at two facilities found 17 more cases.

All Salm employees who were tested didn't show any symptoms of COVID-19, according to the company.

Paprocki discussed President Donald Trump's

stay open under the Defense Production Act. The order classifies meat packing plants as critical infrastructure.

JBS Spokesman Cameron Bruett issued the following statement late Wednesday afternoon regarding the president's executive order:

The men and women who feed America have gone unnoticed for far too long. The country is now rightly focused on their essential role in keeping grocery shelves stocked and helping feed families across our nation every day. Their health and safety remains our primary focus. To us, they have always been essential. We thank the Administration for acknowledging the important role food companies serve and ensuring that our food supply will remain resilient during these unprecedented times.

JBS voluntarily closed its Green Bay meat packing facility Sunday due to the outbreak there. When asked if JBS needs to reopen under the president's executive order, Paprocki told reporters to contact the company directly. She said JBS had not given the health department a date on which they were planning to reopen. Action 2 News also reached out to JBS for that information and has not received a response.

Paprocki says Brown County Corporation Counsel is working with local and federal partners to make sure meat packaging facilities are operating in accordance with OSHA and CDC guidance. Paprocki says there are no unsafe conditions at the meat plants in the area, and the county does not have concerns about them staying open right now despite the COVID-19 outbreaks.

Prevea Health President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai discussed the situation with meat packaging plants on Action 2 News This Morning.

"Any time you have an outbreak in one of those congregant settings, whether it be a nursing home, or prison, or manufacturer where people are so close together and spending the day together, you're going to be concerned. And you want to make sure the right steps are being taken. Sometimes the right steps is closing it. Sometimes the right steps is actually screening everybody and testing more people. I understand the food chain supply concerns in all of this and the economics of it. I think if they're going to open or they're going to have to open, we need to make sure the right way of screening these individuals is being done. Their temperatures are being taken, the right questions are being asked. And if they screen positive in any of those situations, they are actually being tested right away, and more effectively quarantined. Because that's really how you prevent the outbreak. Closing the plant without quarantining those individuals, without telling them they have to stay home, obviously just takes those individuals out in the community. By putting them at work in a situation where maybe it's a little more controlled and you can educate them more directly, it might actually be successful long term," says Dr. Rai.

"The way the testing process went initially at the meat packaging plants is for symptomatic people. So basically, you're screened at the front door, or if you had symptoms you were told to get a virtual visit and get tested at one of the health care facilities. But you're screened in line, you have a temperature, answer 'yes' to any of the questions, you go to a different line and you get tested. So for right now, the testing philosophy for meat packaging and other areas have been really around testing the symptomatic."

for more of our conversation with Dr. Rai.

Brown County Public Health says 37 people are currently hospitalized in Brown County.

There was a large leap in people who are out of isolation from Tuesday to Wednesday. On Tuesday, the county reported 35 people out of isolation. That number grew to 140 on Wednesday. "That's really good news," Paprocki said. "Out of isolation" means they are no longer showing symptoms and are no longer under quarantine.

Paprocki attributes the increase to staffers catching up with the count. "This is a large undertaking with a ton of numbers, a ton of manual data, a ton of research. Contact tracing is ongoing, so we're trying to give our folks grace when they're feeding us this data. It can be a very manual process. So, they caught up are happy to report that many have recovered."

This is a developing story. Action 2 News will continue to update.