Poultry workers to undergo virus testing in Salisbury

Peninsula Regional Medical Center, in cooperation with the Wicomico County Health Department, will be testing poultry industry workers beginning Thursday through this Saturday at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium.

Poultry workers and other critical employees are being targeted in a mass Covid-19 testing event as part of a statewide effort to slow the spread of the virus.

Beginning Thursday, employees at the Perdue Farms plant in Salisbury and other nearby processing facilities will be eligible for testing over the next three days at the Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, according to the Wicomico County Health Department. Tests also will be made available to workers’ family members.

“Across the Delmarva Peninsula, many of the cases are poultry workers,” said Salisbury Mayor Jake Day, citing the high number of cases in Wicomico County and just across the state line in Sussex County.

State health officials also are working with Perdue to establish a testing regimen at the Salisbury plant, Day said.

Employees often work in close proximity at the processing plants and can easily spread the virus to one another. From there, workers can then infect people in their households.

Officials with Perdue Farms, Mountaire Farms and Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. did not respond to requests for more information about how the virus is affecting local poultry plants.

The pandemic has caused widespread staffing shortages at meat processing plants across the country. Tyson Foods ran full-page ads Sunday in The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette warning that the “food supply is breaking.”

“As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” Board Chairman John Tyson wrote. “As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”

On Tuesday, President Trump ordered meat processing plants to remain open, but staffing could continue to be an issue, Day said during his daily coronavirus briefing.

“You can order a plant to stay open, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to,” he said.

Peninsula Regional Medical Center has seen a “slow and steady” increase in coronavirus cases recently, and the highest number of them are poultry workers, Chris Hall, the hospital’s Chief Business Officer, said during this week’s meeting of the Salisbury Coronavirus Recovery Task Force.

As of Tuesday, the hospital had 63 coronavirus patients in its care, he said.

Drive-through targeted testing for poultry industry workers and other essential employees who are at high risk for Covid-19 will take place in Salisbury on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. daily. Spanish and Haitian Creole translators will be present.

Hall said health officials also are looking at conducting more testing in Hurlock.

The number of positive cases will go up following the testing, he said. Locally, numbers will continue to climb this week and next week before leveling off.

Wicomico County’s confirmed cases of coronavirus patients totaled 340 patients as of Tuesday night, state health officials reported. Five Wicomico residents have now died from the virus.

Additional Covid-19 cases have also been confirmed in Worcester County, which now reports 54 people as having the virus and one death.

The patient count in Somerset is now 21, which makes for a total of 415 cases in the three Lower Shore counties.

Officials concede there are likely more cases in the communities, as many virus victims have not been tested.

Dorchester County counts 52 cases with two deaths. There are 69 reported cases in Caroline County.

Statewide in Maryland, 20,113 cases have been confirmed, with 929 deaths reported. The hospitalization totals of people with the virus stands at 1,528.

Across Maryland, 87,672 people have tested negative for the virus and 1,295 people have been released from isolation after testing positive.

Nationally, there are now more than one million cases with 57,812 deaths as of Tuesday.

Currently, all of Maryland – except for essential services – is shut down with residents ordered to stay at home to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Gov. Larry Hogan has not yet indicated when the restrictions might be lifted.

Locally, Wicomico County officials have eased restrictions a bit by reopening trails and day use areas in county parks. Playgrounds, pavilions, tennis courts, basketball courts and pickleball courts will remain closed.

Visitors must follow social distancing guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Maryland Department of Public Health to ensure a safe environment for themselves and others. Park restrooms will remain closed, and visitors are advised to prepare accordingly.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Maryland Department of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage

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