By Shereen Siewert

Three employees at Abbyland Foods, Inc. have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a joint news release from the Marathon and Clark County Health Departments.

The news comes as the meat industry continues to be hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

In recent weeks, beef, pork, and poultry processing plants across the U.S. have emerged as dangerous new hot spots for the disease, which can also cause damage to the heart, kidneys, and brain. Dozens of plants have been forced to temporarily halt operations amid skyrocketing numbers of cases and fatalities.

Reports of cases at meat processing facilities began cropping up in mid to late April, with more than 5,000 plant workers in 19 states testing positive for the virus by early May, according to the CDC. In Iowa and South Dakota, close to a fifth of the workforce in the states’ largest slaughterhouses have fallen ill.

And while conditions may vary from plant to plant, there are some factors that seem consistent among plants across several states: Many employees work at close quarters and at high speeds on the meat packing lines, and have few breaks in which they can go to the bathroom to wash their hands. During break times or shift changes, workers still find it difficult to reach six feet of distance from their fellow employees.

In many cases, the facilities are not built to accommodate social distancing.

Clark and Marathon County Health Department officials say they are working with Abbyland leadership and staff to conduct an investigation to track, trace, and contain the virus, said Brittany Mews, Clark County Health Officer.

Abbyland Foods is located in both counties.

“We are all working together to ensure the facility, staff, residents, and their family members, are taking steps to contain the spread of COVID-19,” Mews said.

Abbyland has implemented CDC recommended prevention guidelines such as employees wearing masks, reconfigured workspaces , staggered breaks and lunches to limit employee contact and promote social distancing, and increased sanitization in high traffic areas, according to Todd Jelinski, Safety Director, Abbyland Foods Inc.

COVID-19 can be spread by asymptomatic people, meaning people who are not experiencing symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

Anyone who has been in contact with someone who is a confirmed case of COVID-19 will be contacted by staff from a local health department. When they call, they will ask if you are experiencing symptoms, and will provide information about quarantine and isolation. If you have symptoms, they can also help you understand when and how to seek medical help, how to get tested, and options if you have concerns about being able to safely quarantine or isolate for the required time.

The health departments do not release the names of any residents that have been tested positive for COVID- 19 to protect the privacy of individuals and their families. Close contacts at Abbyland Meats Inc. and immediate family members have been notified. Any person with symptoms has been isolated.