Kentucky Meatpacking Plants are Now Coronavirus Hotspots With Dozens Of Cases

Apr 24, 2020

Credit USDA/Alice Welch

Dozens of coronavirus cases have been confirmed at two west Kentucky meatpacking plants, following concerns Ohio Valley worker safety advocates have raised about the spread of the coronavirus in these kinds of facilities. 

Green River District Health Department Director Clay Horton said as of Thursday afternoon at least 62 people associated with a Tyson Foods meatpacking plant in Henderson County, Kentucky, have coronavirus. Horton also confirmed 19 cases at a Perdue Farms poultry processing plant in Ohio County, Kentucky. 

“We know there are a number of confirmed cases outside our jurisdiction as well but don’t have specific data at this time,” Horton said in a statement. “We are working diligently to identify every case and close contact. Those individuals are being isolated and quarantined to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said his department has been preparing for this possibility for the past month and has been in communication with various meatpacking companies in the state.

“A challenging situation is that most processing plants, and it’s not just poultry, most meat processing plants were not designed or set up for social distancing,” Quarles said. “Workers work right next to each other. And the companies have done an extraordinary job.”

Quarles said with several meatpacking facilities temporarily closing because of coronavirus outbreaks the nationwide food system is being strained. 

Some Ohio Valley farmers have been concerned about a ripple effect of meatpacking plant closures and slowdowns that could force farmers to kill off livestock they can’t take to market. Quarles said the Kentucky Department of Agriculture isn’t aware of any poultry farmers that have lost contracts with meatpacking companies yet.

Tyson Foods spokesperson Morgan Watchous in a statement said the company has 1300 employees at its Henderson County plant. The company is checking worker temperatures as they arrive, requiring workers to wear face coverings, has added workstation dividers, and provided more space in break rooms. 

She said when a Tyson Foods employee becomes sick, the employee remains on sick leave until health officials say the employee can return to work. Representatives with Perdue Farms did not immediately respond for comment.