CDC Reports 115 Meat or Poultry Processing Facilities Facing COVID-19 Outbreak
We know that persons in congregate work and residential locations are at increased risk for transmission and acquisition of respiratory infections, including the novel coronavirus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has reported COVID-19 cases among U.S. workers in 115 meat and poultry processing facilities were reported by 19 states. Among approximately 130,000 workers at these facilities, 4,913 cases and 20 deaths occurred. Factors potentially affecting risk for infection include difficulties with workplace physical distancing and hygiene and crowded living and transportation conditions.
Improving physical distancing, hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfection, and medical leave policies, as well as providing educational materials in languages spoken by workers might help reduce COVID-19 in these settings and help preserve the function of this critical infrastructure industry.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is primarily spread person to person through respiratory droplets. Nationwide, the meat and poultry processing industry, an essential component of the U.S. food infrastructure, employs approximately 500,000 persons, many of whom work in proximity to other workers. Because of reports of initial cases of COVID-19, in some meat processing facilities, states were asked to provide aggregated data concerning the number of meat and poultry processing facilities affected by COVID-19 and the number of workers with COVID-19 in these facilities, including COVID-19–related deaths.
Qualitative data gathered by CDC during on-site and remote assessments were analyzed and summarized. During April 9–27, aggregate data on COVID-19 cases among 115 meat or poultry processing facilities in 19 states were reported to CDC. Facility barriers to effective prevention and control of COVID-19 included difficulty distancing workers at least 6 feet (2 meters) from one another and in implementing COVID-19-specific disinfection guidelines.*
Among workers, socioeconomic challenges might contribute to working while feeling ill, particularly if there are management practices such as bonuses that incentivize attendance. Methods to decrease transmission within the facility include worker symptom screening programs, policies to discourage working while experiencing symptoms compatible with COVID-19, and social distancing by workers. Source control measures (e.g., the use of cloth face covers) as well as increased disinfection of high-touch surfaces are also important means of preventing SARS-CoV-2 exposure.
In early April, CDC was alerted to COVID-19 cases among workers in several meat and poultry processing facilities and responded to state and local authorities’ requests for on-site or remote technical assistance. Qualitative on-site and remote risk assessments were conducted. All states that had reported at least one case of COVID-19 in a meat or poultry processing facility were contacted for further information. CDC requested aggregate data on the number of meat or poultry facilities affected, number of workers in affected facilities, number of workers with a COVID-19 diagnosis, and number of COVID-19–related deaths among workers. States reported COVID-19 among workers using their own case definitions.
By April 27, CDC had received aggregate data on COVID-19 cases from 19 of 23 states reporting at least one case related to this industry; there were 115 meat or poultry processing facilities with COVID-19 cases, including 4,913 workers with diagnosed COVID-19 (see Table). Among 17 states reporting the number of workers in their affected facilities, 3.0% of 130,578 workers received diagnoses of COVID-19. The percentage of workers with diagnosed COVID-19 ranged from 0.6% to 18.2%. Twenty COVID-19–related deaths were reported among workers.
As part of the national COVID-19 response, the recognized risk to meat and poultry facility operation requires prompt action to decrease risks to workers, preserve facility function, and maintain the food supply. Collaborative implementation of engineering controls, administrative controls, enhanced cleaning and disinfection, and source control in meat and poultry processing facilities might reduce COVID-19 among workers supporting this critical industry.