Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support our critical reporting on the coronavirus by purchasing a digital subscription or donating directly to the newsroom.
A COVID-19 outbreak at a Tyson Foods plant in Portland has forced the plant’s temporary closure this weekend.
The Portland Press Herald reports that the multinational meat giant will suspend operations at the 150,000-square-foot poultry processing plant Saturday, Sunday and Monday so it can conduct deep cleaning and sanitation of the production areas and common areas while universal employee testing is underway, spokesman Worth Sparkman said.
The eight cases of COVID-19 reported earlier this week made the Portland plant the site of the first outbreak in Maine outside of a health care setting. As of Friday, the number of confirmed cases at the plant had risen to 11. No coronavirus deaths have been traced to the plant, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Food processing facilities nationwide, however, have been shutting down nationwide due to virus outbreaks, causing breakdowns in the food supply chain. President Donald Trump has compelled the plants to stay open during the pandemic, even as the sites become hotspots for the virus.
Food processing plant workers are in danger of contracting the virus because they work in close quarters, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. Sparkman said the company has increased the space between employees on the work floor and installed workstation dividers and barriers in its break rooms to combat the spread, he said.
While the plant is closed, a contractor hired by Tyson Foods will collect samples from the 400 people who work at the St. John Street facility and send them to a private lab that will conduct the testing. Results will be reported to the Maine CDC. It had earlier recommended that it conduct the testing at its Augusta lab, the Press Herald reports.
Plant test results were not available on Friday, Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah said.
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.
When production resumes, Tyson will have COVID-19 prevention measures in place, Sparkman said. Workers will be screened for fever and other symptoms at the start of each shift, they must wear company-provided masks at all times and monitors will be in place to help enforce social distancing, the Press Herald reports.