Farbest reports 101 more COVID-19 cases

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

The Indiana State Department of Health Strike Team tested 588 employees at Farbest’s Huntingburg plant Friday.

“Of those 588 tests, 101 of those were confirmed asymptomatic positives from various counties,” Farbest President Ted Seger said in a statement Monday afternoon, “while 464 of those tests results were negative and 23 tests are still pending verification.”

The Huntingburg plant decided to test all employees after discovering in the last two weeks a total of 42 confirmed cases of the virus in employees. The company decided to close the plant on Monday and Tuesday to contact workers who tested positive after Friday’s testing. Seger said previously that those who test positive will be off work, with pay, to self-quarantine for 10 days.

According to an Associated Press report, the Farbest cases have fueled 91 new confirmed coronavirus cases in Dubois County since Friday, more than doubling the county’s case count. Herald calls to the county health department were not returned to confirm this.

State health crews have been monitoring cleaning work at the Farbest plant ahead of its reopening on Wednesday, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said during the press conference Monday with Gov. Eric Holcomb. The governor said that Farbest and local officials have been “working hand in glove with us to make sure we are able to contain that spread.”

Farbest is scheduled to reopen on Wednesday, and those who tested negative will go back to their shifts. “However, due to the rapid speed at which data becomes available, this situation requires flexibility, and we are prepared to adapt our schedule as the need arises,” Seger said in the statement. “Our number one priority continues to be the safety and health of our employees, and we will make decisions with that in mind.”

Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner has been in constant contact with state and local health officials as well as with Farbest officials concerning the matter.

“Mr. Seger and I have talked regularly over the last several weeks. He has kept me informed on everything that they’re doing,” Spinner said this morning. “Through this process, Farbest has been very forthcoming and transparent about the issues they’ve had there. Mr. Seger and his staff have been very open with us about the issues.”

When the first cases were discovered by Farbest earlier this month, the company made sure Spinner knew what was happening. And the latest numbers of people who have tested positive is disheartening, Spinner acknowledged.

“Yes, there is some concern. But it’s the same concern that we have for all of our entire community,” Spinner said. “[Farbest officials] are taking the initiative to do this testing because their concern is not only for their workers, but for our community. The fact that the numbers are going up is directly related to the intensive testing that has been done.”

Farbest continues to take precautions for those who are working, Seger said in an email to The Herald this morning.

“Farbest has been taking temperatures of all processing plant employees prior to entering the complex and has been doing so since March 31,” he wrote. “Please see our website for all the actions Farbest has taken and will continue to take. As we learn of more or newer interventions, we shall implement.”

As far as future testing, he said: “There are no existing plans to do further mass asymptomatic testing at Farbest, in agreement with the federal, state and local health departments guidance. Of course, any symptomatic person in this county can get tested at various sites.”

Huntingburg officials have said that they will follow the recommendations of local and state officials for dealing with the virus, especially as various business and community settings slowly reopen.

Spinner also strongly encouraged the community at large to follow the directives from local and state health officials, including wearing face coverings in public settings and continuing to practice social distancing.

“We need to think of our own safety and the safety of others,” he said. “Even though our businesses are now starting to open up and public places are becoming more available, the recommendation is clear that we should wear face coverings in public settings and practice social distancing.

“What we do at work and how we’re required to respond in our own workplaces is guided by those we work for,” the mayor added. “But how we take personal responsibility to approach a situation is on us personally, as we leave that workplace. And we need to be very aware of what the recommended guidelines are by our state and by our county health department.”

Seger appreciated the help Farbest received from officials.

“The State Strike Team was fantastic to work with and we are very much appreciative of their help,” he said in the email. “They provided test results in a very timely fashion as well.”



Here's the company's full statement:

Based on the expert guidance from and partnership with the

Indiana State Department of Health, the Dubois County Health Department,
and Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center, Farbest Foods tested all
employees at the Huntingburg processing plant for COVID-19 on Friday,
May 15th.  This was a unanimous decision from all entities involved--one
made in an overabundance of caution, as local and state health
authorities audited our facilities on May 8th and approved our process
protections and control plan in accordance with CDC guidance. The goal
of testing Huntingburg employees was to identify asymptomatic
individuals and have them self-isolate for ten days per CDC guidance to
protect our employees, their families, and the community from further
exposure to the virus. The ISDH administered 588 tests to Farbest Foods
Huntingburg employees.  Of those 588 tests, 101 of those were confirmed
asymptomatic positives from various counties, while 464 of those tests
results were negative and 23 tests are still pending verification.

The Farbest Huntingburg plant will be closed Monday, May 18th and
Tuesday, May 19th to allow company officials time to contact individuals
on more specific work schedules.  At this time, the plant is scheduled
to reopen on Wednesday, May 20th for those with negative test results.
However, due to the rapid speed at which data becomes available, this
situation requires flexibility, and we are prepared to adapt our
schedule as the need arises. Our number one priority continues to be the
safety and health of our employees, and we will make decisions with that
in mind.

The ISDH, through the Maximus Contact Tracing Call Center,
as well as our own Farbest nurses and Human Resources team members, are
in contact with the affected employees regularly. The extensive measures
in place at our facilities since mid-March shall not cease, and we shall
continue to keep those employees aged 65 years and older (off since
March 24th), 60 years or older with compromised immune systems (off
since April 6th) and employees who are pregnant, on paid leave from
work.  It is worth mentioning that employees in these groups have been
off well before our first confirmed positive case on April 28th.  As an
added precaution during employee testing, Farbest conducted
environmental swab tests for 20 high-touch surfaces in the plant.  All
20 of those tests were negative, and we plan to continue this
environmental swab testing in the coming weeks.  For a complete list of
actions taken and more information on our company response thus far,
please visit
https://farbestfoods.com/farbest-foods-response-to-covid-19/ [1].

At this time, there is currently no evidence to support transmission of
COVID-19 associated with food.  Please visit the Center for Disease
Control, Food & Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture
websites for more information on the safety of the food supply.

We are grateful for the resources available to test our employees and
for the continued support of the Indiana State Department of Health, the
Dubois County Health Department, and Memorial Hospital. We thank our
employees for their participation in testing, and as always, we wish
good health to our team of essential employees and their families.

Sincerely,

Ted J. Seger
President, Farbest Foods Inc.




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