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15 meat facility outbreaks ongoing; five now closed – public health specialist

Fifteen meat facilities are under active investigation due to Covid-19 outbreaks, with five outbreaks now closed, according to public health specialist Dr Mai Mannix. A closed outbreak refers to a period of over 28 days without a positive case.

Dr Mannix, Director of Public Health, HSE Mid-West, told a HSE press conference this morning that as of 1 June, there had been 1,054 notifications of Covid-19 associated with outbreaks in meat processing plants in Ireland.

Some 88 per cent of the cases are out of their infectious period, outlined Dr Mannix.

A small number – 2.7 per cent -have required admission to hospital, and of these, seven patients have required admission to ICU. “Thankfully we have had no deaths in this grouping,” added Dr Mannix.

Over half of the overall cases are aged 25-44 years and most are male.

Meat processing plants have been under the spotlight in recent weeks due to the number of ongoing cases and outbreaks of Covid-19.

Dr Mannix noted that meat processing plants and other related activities had been designated as essential services during the public health emergency, and as such, these workers were “putting themselves out there during this pandemic”. She said the meat sector employs around 15,000 people in Ireland.

The public health specialist said national and local outbreak control teams had been convened to manage the outbreaks. On 15 May, interim guidance was issued to facilities in respect of outbreak control.

Dr Mannix said there had been good engagement and cooperation with plant management. A number of additional measures had been implemented in facilities including erection of perspex screens and increasing canteen areas to ensure social distancing.

Mass testing had been carried out in eight facilities to date.

In regard to contact tracing, Dr Mannix said there were two groups of contacts – workplace and community.

“Just to be very clear that contact tracing in relation to the workplace is 100 per cent…in relation to community contacts this is often done by the contact tracing centres and the information I have from speaking with colleagues around the country is they estimate that this is about 90 per cent complete in most instances,” outlined Dr Mannix.

“There was one facility where the estimate was 60-70 per cent, but again to re-emphasise, the contact tracing in the workplace is 100 per cent and that is done by departments of public health.

“CRM [case tracker system] as I understand it, are planning to introduce a safety net whereby if there are three calls that are unanswered these cases will be referred back to public health …”

Dr Mannix said “ we would encourage any contacts to really engage with the public health service and we can arrange for their testing”.

The public health specialist stressed the importance of individual level behaviors, such as avoiding coming to work when unwell, cough etiquette, hand hygiene and social distancing. She asked the facilities for their “ongoing vigilance in relation to interim guidance we have issued”.

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