An outbreak of COVID-19 cases at a Dubois County food plant has driven up the number of cases in Daviess County as well.
Last week, 42 cases of the coronavirus were reported at the Farbest Foods plant in Huntingburg. The company then had all 588 employees tested for the virus and 100 came back as positive. Since Farbest is a regional employer, the outbreak has reached into several neighboring counties including Daviess.
In all, 11 Daviess County residents that worked at Farbest have been placed in quarantine after their positive test results. The new cases helped raise Daviess County’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 74.
Daviess County Health Department officials are working with the state health department on monitoring the situation with the quarantined worker.
“The state has taken over monitoring contact tracing,” said Daviess County Public Health Nurse Kathy Sullender. “We are helping to fill in the gaps and doing some follow-ups.”
The Farbest plant is the fourth meat processing operation to get hit with the coronavirus that resulted in a temporary shutdown. The largest problem hit a Tyson plant in Cass County where 900 workers tested positive. Smaller outbreaks hit plants in Orland and Delphi.
“This is really turning out to be a regional outbreak,” said Sullender. “Many of the Farbest employees work in neighboring communities like Daviess. They carpool to work. It raises the possibility if one person is exposed that many more could be.”
A recent state study has indicated that people who live with someone with the coronavirus are 12 times more likely to also come down with the disease. “This could lead to an expansion of COVID-19 cases,” said Sullender. “We are not that worried about it though. We are watching for it.”
Farbest officials said that they have undertaken a plan in conjunction with the state and local health department and Jasper Memorial Hospital concerning the COVID-19 cases. Officials say that of those tested Friday that were positive, none were showing any symptoms. The company reports that during the testing they did environmental swab tests of 20 high touch surfaces that came back negative.
Farbest officials report they had taken several efforts to try and limit the exposure of employees. That included health checks on all employees when reporting to work, a relaxation of the attendance policy, emphasizing social distancing by suspending non-essential meetings, increasing seating in break rooms and cafeterias and adding spatial dividers on the assembly line. The company also provided masks and required their use, and sanitizing common areas every two hours.
Farbest shut down the plant Monday through Wednesday for additional sanitizing and cleaning and was scheduled to resume operations Thursday.
The situation at Farbest raised the total number of COVID-19 cases in Dubois County to more than 160.
“We know that increased testing means the number of positive cases will increase,” said Dr. Ted Waflart, Dubois County Health Officer. “This spike in positive cases has been expected especially due to the large amount of testing that has been done in the last few days, but along with that, we are also seeing further spread of COVID-19 throughout our county.”
Farbest expects the employees to spend 10 days on quarantine. Officials say the fact that so few of the employees showed any symptoms is not surprising.
“The state did a study that showed that around 48 percent of the people with the coronavirus show no symptoms,” said Sullender. “Keeping them on a 10-day quarantine would be ideal.”
Local and state health officials worked with Farbest in the cleaning and sanitizing operations at the plant prior to opening again.