Outbreak of COVID-19 at meat processing plant in Green Bay; Gov. Evers sends test supplies, PPE

GREEN BAY -- There has been an outbreak of COVID-19 cases among employees at the JBS Packerland meat processing plant in Green Bay, a spokesman for the Brown County Health Department said Monday, April 20.

The beef production plant that employees around 800 people remains operating as an essential business, said health department spokesman Ted Shove. The exact number of people at the plant who have tested positive remains under investigation, he said.

Total confirmed coronavirus cases in Brown County increased by 119 cases since Friday to 292 as of Monday, Shove said. Not all of the increase was among plant workers, but it is believed there was community spread of the virus, he said.

JBS is ramping up testing and a team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention arrived on Monday to assist, Shove said.

A spokesman for JBS USA did not immediately return a message seeking comment. There have been a string of meat processing plant shut downs across the country due to outbreaks of COVID-19 among workers, including a JBS plant in Minnesota.

Workers at other meatpacking plants in the Green Bay area have also tested positive, but not to the degree as what's been seen at JBS, Shove said.

The proximity of workers in the JBS plant contributed to the virus spreading, he said.

“They do have areas where people are working very closely together for their entire shift," he said. "The cafeteria style areas for lunches and break rooms are something of a concern because it doesn’t really allow for social distancing.”

Gov. Tony Evers said Monday that Wisconsin was sending 2,200 test collection supplies and personal protective equipment to Green Bay to deal with a coronavirus outbreak there that carries a “significant risk potential to the community.”

Evers said that the state was taking “big steps” to expand testing capacity, which health leaders have said is an integral part to combating the spread of the virus. The state now has 36 labs processing tests, up from eight a month ago.

There are also now 11 Wisconsin National Guard teams helping to collect specimens in hot spots and under-served areas, Evers said.

Evers said the state will enter into more public-private partnerships in the weeks ahead, but it needs more critical supplies from the federal government. Evers said the state has been able to purchase 250,000 additional test collection supplies that should be arriving in the coming weeks.