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Third person dies in Brown County from COVID-19; positive tests top 900

(WCAX)
Published: Apr. 28, 2020 at 12:27 PM CDT
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A third person in Brown County has died from COVID-19, the public health department announced Tuesday morning.

The department did not release any information about the person who passed away, or if the patient was linked to any outbreaks at meat packaging facilities in the county.

Public Health was said to be reaching out to family to inform them of the patient's passing.

On Tuesday, Brown County reported 913 positives cases of COVID-19. Oneida Nation reported seven positive cases. Combined, that's a total of 920.

The combined case number Monday was 856. That's an increase of 64 cases.

Brown County has the second-highest number of confirmed cases in the state. Milwaukee County has more than 2,600 confirmed cases.

The number of Green Bay JBS beef plant employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 stayed even at 255. The health department says there are 79 cases linked to the JBS outbreak. That would be non-employees who have had close contact with infected workers.

The number of Green Bay American Foods Group employees to test positive increased to 145 Tuesday. That's an increase of 15 cases from Monday to Tuesday. Seven cases are listed as linked to the American Foods outbreak.

That's 486 cases linked to the meat packaging industry in Brown County.

"It's not fair to say that one plant or the other or any facility in Brown County caused specifically this cluster of cases," said Claire Paprocki with the Brown County Health Department. "There would have to be an overwhelming amount of evidence and numbers that would point to a specific facility in the community in order for that public health officer order to come to say shut down."

Paprocki emphasizes that 50-percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Brown County are the result of community spread.

The department is no longer reporting positive cases in workers at Denmark sausage maker Salm Partners. The company asked to no longer be including in the daily reporting of numbers, according to public health. The department "abided by that request."

Salm Partners released this statement to Action 2 News:

Thirty-five people are hospitalized in Brown County with COVID-19. About the same number are listed as "out of isolation."

An increase in overall cases was anticipated due to what the county refers to as "aggressive testing" at the plants linked to outbreaks.

JBS announced Sunday that it had temporarily closed the plant on Lime Kiln Road due to the outbreak. It was a decision made by the company, according to health officials.

"We will not operate a facility if we do not believe it is safe or if absenteeism levels result in our inability to safely operate. The health and safety of our team members remains our number one priority. The Green Bay facility is open and operational, though production capacity has been reduced," reads a statement from JBS.

Action 2 News spoke with a JBS employee who described feelings of anxiety going to work.

"We are working with anxiety, because we don't know seeing the news how many are ill at the moment with COVID-19, and we still have to show up for work," one JBS worker tells Action 2 News.

The worker says people in other departments got another message: "You are going to be tested and if you come positive, you will, I ask you to keep working. Don't say anything. If you do, they will fire you."

In a statement Monday afternoon, a JBS spokesperson responded to those allegations: "Symptomatic team members were tested prior to entering the facility in coordination with the CDC and local health officials. No one was told to keep results secret. Our only goals for both testing and plant closure are to help combat community spread, and protect the health and safety of our workforce."

The company says nobody in the human resources department ever threatened to fire any employees who tested positive.

On Tuesday night, President Trump took executive action and ordered meat processing plants to stay open amid concerns over growing coronavirus cases and the impact on the nation's food supply.

Th order uses the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to try to prevent a shortage of chicken, pork and other meat on supermarket shelves.

Unions responded to the order, saying the order jeopardizes lives and prioritizes cold cuts over workers' health.

Brown County health officials haven't specifically said how the order will impact local facilities linked to COVID-19 outbreaks.

RELATED:

Tyson Foods ran an ad in the New York Times stating " the food supply chain is vulnerable."

“As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain," reads the statement.

It's anticipated consumers will see a slight increase in prices of beef, chicken and pork.

for the full story.

A Department of Labor spokesperson tells Action 2 News that OSHA has opened investigations at the following Wisconsin companies:

· Smithfield/Patrick Cudahy Plant in Cudahy

· American Foods Group in Green Bay

· JBS in Green Bay

· Salm Partners in Denmark

· TNT Crust in Green Bay

· Birds Eye Foods in Darien

to follow cases and outbreaks in Wisconsin.

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