More than 20 workers at Kuna meat plant have tested positive for coronavirus since March

Posted at 3:08 PM, May 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-09 17:08:37-04

This article was originally published by Nicole Foy and Ximena Bustillo of the Idaho Statesman.

At least 23 employees working at one meatpacking plant in Kuna have tested positive for the coronavirus since March, Central District Health officials confirmed Saturday.

One additional employee also is presumed to have the virus, and two other contract employees associated with the plant have tested positive, CDH spokesperson Christine Myron told the Idaho Statesman.

Three employees are still recovering at home. The majority of the employees who tested positive have recovered, Myron told the Statesman on Saturday. The count includes the total number of employees who have tested positive since March 11, when COVID-19 testing began in Idaho. Some of the employees who tested positive do not live in the Central District Health area, which serves Ada, Boise, Elmore and Valley counties.

"Central District Health does not believe that all cases are related to transmission occurring within the plant, but that community transmission has also played a part," Myron said.

Two other food processing companies within Central District Health have reported clusters of illnesses among employees. Central District Health did not identify the companies and said the cases are thought to be the result of community spread and employees bringing the virus into the facilities.

There are no ongoing clusters or concerns within those two facilities, Myron said.

In a written statement provided to the Statesman, Steve Cherry, the plant manager and team leader at the Kuna plant, said plant employees working in close proximity may have been exposed to the virus. All plant employees who have contracted the virus will remain at home until health officials and doctors confirm they are recovered, Cherry said. Employees will be compensated for time away from work.

However, per a Food and Drug Administration briefing, "there is no evidence of food or food packaging being involved in the transmission of the disease. This is not a foodborne illness and it is not known to be transmitted via food," the statement noted.

"Our plant operations will continue as normal. We are especially focused upon enhanced cleaning and sanitation programs in all areas of the plant," Cherry wrote in the statement. "We are striving to assure that all of our team members have every possible safeguard in place to protect their health so we can continue to provide safe and quality real Beef products to our customers and supply chain to continue feeding America!"

Cherry said all plant employees have been provided masks, face shields and outside seating options to allow for social distancing during break times. The plant is also conducting temperature and health screenings of all employees reporting for work.

Thousands of workers in meatpacking plants and food processing companies across the country have contracted coronavirus, according to The Associated Press. A CDC report identified more than 30 worker deaths associated with those plants, but noted that several states did not supply data. Last week, President Donald Trump ordered the country's meatpacking plants to remain open to protect the country's food supply.