Lee County’s spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases can be attributed in part to an outbreak at a local food processing plant, according to the North Carolina Dept. of Health and Human Services.
The NCDHHS published a press release on Tuesday about state agencies working with county health departments, plant managers, business owners and local hospitals to ensure safe working conditions for those who are keeping the world’s food supply stable.
The report cited outbreaks in five food processing facilities in North Carolina — Lee and Chatham counties, as well as Duplin, Bladen and Robeson.
Lee County’s health department does not release any information on patients who have tested positive for coronavirus, but the county has seen two large single-day spikes in the past week. Nine new cases were reported on April 17, and today marked the largest number of reported cases with 16.
Lee County currently has 64 cases, and it is one of only two counties in the state with more than 50 cases and no reported deaths attributed COVID-19 (the other, as of Wednesday, was Alamance).
The NCDHHS does not name the Lee County food processing plant in its report, though speculation has run rampant on social media (The Rant has not confirmed the source of the “outbreak”).
The Rant did learn from a woman in Sanford (who asked not to be named) that her husband — an employee at Mountaire (a poultry plant in Chatham County) — had tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. WRAL reported today that plant (located in Siler City) has 11 confirmed positive employees.
The NCDHHS defines an “outbreak” in these plants as only two or more positive cases. It did say local health departments are “conducting outbreak investigations, including contact tracing to determine who else may have been exposed.” The report also states food processing plants are “doing temperature and symptom checks, encouraging sick employees to stay home and implementing paid sick leave for those with COVID-19 or suspected of having COVID-19.”
Food and agriculture is recognized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as being one of 16 critical infrastructures for national security. According to the FDA, there is no evidence that food or food packaging is associated with the transmission of COVID-19.