Sussex County is not alone in seeing outbreaks of coronavirus tied to workplaces in the meat and poultry processing industry.
A wave of plant shutdowns and restarts led President Trump to order the plants to stay open as he heeded warnings from industry executives that the nation’s food supply is in jeopardy.
Do a quick Google search and you will find numerous stories about COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the South, Midwest, and Rocky Mountain areas with meatpacking and poultry processing sites.
As we learn more about COVID-19, it is clear that the overused term of social distancing also applies to fighting the virus on the production line.
It is also increasingly clear that many people carrying COVID-19 have no symptoms. That, in turn, minimizes the effectiveness of measures such as taking temperatures when clocking in.
Meat and poultry processing, by their very nature, require that people work uncomfortably close to one another in cold conditions that can lead to sniffles.
Many measures have been put into place by poultry companies with guidance from state and federal health agencies.
But based on recent testing in the Georgetown area, such efforts came too late. At one site, more than 30 percent tested positive.
The only answer at present is test, test, and test some more.
With a federal Centers for Disease Control team now deployed in Sussex County, widespread testing is underway. There is also a focus on conditions at processing sites and efforts by health care workers to trace people in families and social groups who have been exposed to the virus.
Tomorrow, mass testing will begin for Lower Shore Maryland residents in Salisbury at a baseball stadium, with the media barred from the proceedings.
The reason involves the fears of an immigrant population that often lives in the shadows, even when documented. That reluctance plays into a reluctance to come forward when symptoms appear.
Meanwhile, the poultry industry faces its share of challenges as a fragile supply chain struggles to stock grocery stores, even those 80 miles away.
It does not help that hoarding continues, especially when one sees nearly empty refrigerated cases. (The other day, I fought off the desire to pick up one of two remaining packages of chicken thighs).
At the same time, sales to restaurants, school food services, etc. have evaporated. It is no surprise that processors are now holding parking lot sales on the Eastern Shore for those with big freezers.
The Sussex outbreak is also bad news for Delaware beaches. If Sussex County had Kent County’s coronavirus rate, we might have been talking about limited openings, maybe right after Memorial Day.
Right now, it is hard to estimate when we will see even a phase one opening in Sussex.
Stay safe and let’s reopen Delaware the right way. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.