KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sending a team to Joplin, Missouri, where several large clusters of new cases have been identified.
New COVID-19 cases in several southwest Missouri counties have spiked after outbreaks at a Tyson Foods plant in McDonald County and a Butterball plant in Jasper County.
A lead investigator with the CDC arrived today in Joplin, according to Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams.
During Gov. Mike Parson’s briefing Thursday afternoon, Williams said there will be “more boots on the ground” Friday when the rest of the CDC team arrives along with members of the Missouri National Guard, who will conduct community testing throughout southwest Missouri.
Williams said Missouri is “piggybacking on Arkansas,” which had a CDC team in northwest Arkansas recently to investigate a similar outbreak.
“They’re mostly doing epidemiological investigation,” Williams said.
The CDC team will help identify the ways COVID-19 is spreading and work with local and state health officials on strategies to mitigate further spread of the virus.
Butterball sent a statement to 41 Action News last week, acknowledging the outbreak.
The company is cooperating with local health officials and has undertaken contact tracing.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, we have put in place special processes and procedures at all of our plants, including Carthage, to slow the spread of the virus, such as instituting strict sanitization protocols, social distancing requirements wherever possible, daily temperature screenings, and required surgical face masks. We will continue to aggressively pursue initiatives that best protect our teams while they are at work. As this crisis evolves, we will continue to evolve with it and ensure we’re implementing the latest guidance from the CDC and USDA.
Tyson also is cooperating with local health investigators.
At Tyson, our top priority is the health and safety of our team members, their families and our communities. We take this responsibility very seriously and are doing everything we can to keep them safe and healthy. We are currently working closely with Matrix Medical and local health officials to conduct large-scale COVID-19 testing of team members at our Noel, MO plant. We will disclose verified test results to health and government officials, team members and other stakeholders once complete data is available as part of our efforts to help communities where we operate better understand the coronavirus and the protective measures that can be taken to prevent its spread.
Williams said he believes this is the first time CDC investigators have been in Missouri during the pandemic.
Parson said the state health department already has conducted community testing events in 40 counties, including one in Jackson County during the last week of May, and plans to conduct additional events in 10 more counties “over the next couple of weeks.”
The free testing events are open to all Missouri residents. Those hoping to get tested do not have to live in the county where the testing takes place or be experiencing symptoms.
“Overall, Missouri is still in a good place,” Parson said.
He and Williams stressed that Missouri’s positivity rate — currently around 4% — remains low, while hospitalizations “are at an all-time low” during the pandemic and plenty of ventilator capacity exists in the state’s hospitals.
Williams did note that health departments in Kansas City, Missouri, and Boone County — which includes Columbia, where the largest campus in the University of Missouri system is located — are seeing evidence of a surge in new COVID-19 cases.
KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas said earlier Thursday that he is considering requiring face masks to be worn indoors and in other circumstances within city limits.
Parson said he won’t stand in the way of such decisions made at county or municipal levels in Missouri.
“I’ve said all along, it’s up to local authorities to do that if they want to require it ...,” Parson said. “If the cities want to do that and they want to require that of their citizens that live there, that’s why they have elections in those areas. If people don’t like it, they change it. If people like, they keep the same people in place.”