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Eight cases of the new coronavirus have been detected at the Tyson Foods plant in Portland, marking the first instance of an outbreak in Maine at a food processing facility.
Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said Wednesday that none of those who tested positive are currently at work.
The company is in discussions with the Maine CDC and an outside vendor to implement universal testing for plant employees, said Worth Sparkman, a spokesperson for Tyson Foods.
President Donald Trump has compelled meat processing plants to stay open during the pandemic, even as the sites become hotspots for the virus. Tyson and other food processors have begun shutting down their plants across the country as the virus has spread, causing breakdowns in the food supply chain and shortages in grocery stores.
Tyson became the owner of the Portland plant on St. John Street in 2017 as part of its acquisition of AdvancePierre, which had bought the plant from Barber Foods in 2011. At the time of the acquisition, the plant employed about 300 workers making frozen chicken products, sandwiches and other prepared foods in its 206,000-square-foot facility.
It had the same number of employees in 2019 and was the 10th-biggest employer in Portland, according to city financial documents.
Shah said the Maine CDC has been in discussions with Tyson officials about idling the plant in a way that would still allow all employees to be tested.
Outbreaks in Maine have so far occurred at so-called congregate care settings, including six nursing homes so far and the Hope House homeless shelter in Bangor. Other cases have been linked to workplaces, but none of those rose to the level of an outbreak, which is three cases, Shah said.
Food processing plant workers are in danger of contracting the virus because they work in close quarters, according to the federal CDC.
Sparkman said the company has increased the space between employees on the work floor and installed workstation dividers and barriers in its break rooms for all locations. The company has increased deep cleaning of employee areas in its facilities and may sometimes suspend operation for a day for additional sanitization, he said.
Watch: The new way that Maine is classifying some COVID-19 cases