Missouri monitors COVID-19 outbreaks at several food-processing plants

Posted at 4:38 PM, Apr 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 17:38:19-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri has no plans to conduct widespread COVID-19 testing at meat-packing plants and other large-scale food-processing facilities.

But the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services plans to remain aggressive in responding when suspected clusters arise, like the one at Triumph Foods in Buchanan County.

Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams said COVID-19 clusters have occurred at 48 meat-packing plants around the country — including several in Missouri, Kansas and surrounding states — during Gov. Mike Parson’s daily press briefing.

When those outbreaks are identified, health officials have started to undertake “comprehensive surveillance testing” at food-processing facilities using the state’s expanded testing capacity.

“We’re now going in and being incredibly proactive and testing everyone,” Williams said.

That includes at Triumph Foods in St. Joseph, where more than a dozen employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We immediately went and did some testing,” Williams said.

After receiving reports of employees testing positive for the virus late last week and over the weekend, the state began an initial wave of tests Wednesday using the rapid Abbott Laboratories ID Now COVID-19 kits.

Health and Senior services also authorized and conducted roughly 2,800 tests for Buchanan County to begin assessing how widespread the cluster has become.

Additional test results are expected back Saturday and early next week.

The state is also helping Buchanan County and other local health officials with contact tracing.

“It’s also not as simple as the plant,” Williams said.

He said infections could be coming from outside the facility, but leading to large-scale breakouts at food-processing plants.

Additional surveillance testing is planned next week at food-processing plants in Moniteau and Saline counties as soon as the federal government delivers more cartridges for the ID Now machines.

While the state doesn’t plan to test at facilities where no one has tested positive for COVID-19 yet, “we want to be prepared if we need to do that,” Williams said.

Parson said that he remains “very concerned” about outbreaks at food processing, which impacts the state and national supply chain for feeding Missouri and the U.S.

Nonetheless, the outbreaks at several meat-packing plants across the state will not impact his decision to reopen the state on May 4.

Parson said the enhanced testing programs, including the ability to target entire populations at a particular location, should help control those outbreaks moving forward.