Farbest testing all employees for COVID-19 today

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
The Farbest Foods Inc. plant is seen today in Huntingburg. The company is testing all Huntingburg plant employees for COVID-19 today after 42 cases were confirmed at the plant.

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

HUNTINGBURG — Today, Farbest Foods is having all its employees at its Huntingburg plant tested for COVID-19 since there have been 42 confirmed cases at the location.

“At this time, there are 42 confirmed cases at Farbest’s Huntingburg plant, and we are striving to contain that number,” Farbest President Ted Seger said in a prepared statement Thursday. “Testing all employees at the Huntingburg plant is out of an overabundance of caution, as local and state health authorities do not believe there is a spread of COVID-19 occurring within the plant at this time.”

In speaking with The Herald Thursday afternoon, Seger said about 550 people will be tested today, and the process will take all day. He would not say how many people were tested prior to today. County Health Department Administrative Director Jo Ann Spaulding said some of those confirmed cases are already in the county’s total count, but could not say how many.

An Indiana State Department of Health Strike Team is testing the employees.

“As people come in through the guardhouse and through security, the Indiana State Department of Health has set up. As people come in, they will get tested and come into work as normal,” Seger said. “If there are more positives, which we suspect there will be, they’re likely asymptomatic, people that don’t show symptoms that are out there and don’t even know it. So that’s what we’re trying to catch.”

Asymptomatic people can work, so long as precautions are taken, because a presidential order has deemed the industry an essential business, Seger said.

He added that Farbest will not have anyone who tests positive working.

“We are going above and beyond what the guidelines state that we are allowed to do. We’re going to pay those people. But they have to be off work for 10 days to self quarantine at their homes,” Seger said. “That’s the whole goal of all this, to identify them and get them to self-quarantine.”

The plant will be closed Monday and Tuesday as those tests are analyzed. “It takes time to process those tests,” Seger said. “There’s like a three-day lag before we’ll get results back. So we won’t know which employees are asymptomatic positives or which ones are negatives until sometime Monday. So then all day Tuesday we will work on notifying people who can come back to work on Wednesday. So that’s why we’re closing the plant on Monday and Tuesday.

“And we will use that time to once again thoroughly clean the plant as we have done many, many times before.”

There are no concerns about the virus being in the meat itself. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.”

Seger said the plant has U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors on site at all times. “We are a USDA-inspected processing plant,” he said. “The inspectors are there every day, every hour that we’re open. There are no food safety concerns at all.”

Seger said Farbest has been working with the Indiana State Department of Health, the Dubois County Health Department, and Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center for weeks to have plans already in place for situations involving the virus.

“We were in contact with them prior to us ever having our first case,” he said. “As we develop plans, there’s always strategies and plans and standard operating procedures in place. Our plans were all in place way prior to even having our first case, which was around May 1.

“As the number of cases started to grow, we started making the preparations for testing everyone, what would it look like if we decided to test everyone,” Seger said. “It was earlier this week, we had another conference call with all those parties involved. And it was consensus that it was time.”

Indiana has 11 strike teams that have visited more than 200 sites statewide, testing more than 600 individuals. Besides conducting testing, the teams also, when necessary, educate facilities about infection control practices and isolation. The team that covers Dubois County also covers Crawford, Daviess, Gibson, Knox, Martin, Perry, Pike, Posey, Spencer, Vanderburgh and Warrick counties.

The actual tests are nasopharyngeal swabs that take a few minutes to complete, a spokesperson from the state’s Joint Information Center said. Once specimens are collected, they are taken to labs in Indianapolis to be analyzed. Results are typically available 72 to 96 hours after the test, and are shared with the individuals and the local health department.




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