Virginia COVID-19 Response: Meat and Poultry Processing Plants

This data will be updated at the beginning of each month.

The meat and poultry data blog looks different this month—why the change?

The number of COVID-19 cases, outbreaks, hospitalizations and deaths associated with meat and poultry processing plants continue to remain very low throughout Virginia. As long as there is community transmission of COVID-19, it is likely that we will continue to see occasional cases in meat and poultry processing plant workers over time. The focus of the COVID-19 response efforts for meat and poultry processing plant workers has shifted from supporting outbreak investigations to providing vaccine access to this essential workforce.

What efforts have been made to improve COVID-19 vaccine access to meat and poultry processing workers?

VDH and the food sector have been working on various ways to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to meat and poultry processing workers. These include working with occupational health providers and local health departments. In addition to these efforts community-based organizations have been working to share information about COVID-19 vaccines with workers in the food and agriculture sector.

  • The Lord Fairfax Health District (LFHD) has been working with local food processors to set up vaccination clinics. They’ve vaccinated local fruit growers and a few food processing plants and are continuing to reach out to businesses to arrange coming on site to get more people vaccinated. Since January 2021, LFHD has vaccinated at least:
    • 405 meat and poultry processing plant workers
    • 255 dairy workers
    • 170 produce workers
    • 130 other food production workers
    • 43 migrant workers
  • The Central Shenandoah Health District (CSHD) scheduled 15 clinics onsite at poultry plant facilities, administering over 2,770 1st and 2nd COVID-19 vaccine doses. The health district utilized Community Health Workers to work with poultry plant workers and their families to get connected to other clinics if they were unable to or uncomfortable with receiving the vaccine at the onsite clinics at their place of employment. These efforts supported the districts’ larger, weekly clinics at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds and James Madison University where essential workers, including poultry plant workers, food processing, and agricultural workers, were invited to come and receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Furthermore, CSHD engaged with poultry plant facilities to establish COVID-19 vaccine programs within their occupational health programs. So far, this effort has resulted in the establishment of one COVID-19 vaccine program at a local poultry plant.
  • The Eastern Shore Health District (ESHD) has:
    • Been offering COVID-19 vaccinations to seasonal workers as they arrive on the Shore and coordinating that effort with local farm managers and crew leaders.  Out of approximately 130 workers currently on the Shore, it is estimated that  80-85% have been vaccinated; some received the vaccine before they arrived.
    • Partnered with Eastern Shore Rural Health to provide three onsite vaccination events at poultry plant facilities. Hispanic and Haitian Creole outreach workers helped provide education to workers as part of these events. A total of 91 night shift workers were vaccinated during these events and similar events are planned for day shift workers in early June. The Elite Marketing Group will be helping to host a pre-vaccination “party” with snacks and educational information as part of these upcoming events.
    • Offered weekly walk-in vaccination clinics on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the local health department.
    • Partnered with Legal Aid and Eastern Shore Rural Health to plan an upcoming outdoor event at the local YMCA, to specifically offer COVID-19 vaccines to the refugee, immigrant and migrant populations. There will be informational tables for organizations who provide services to this community and walk-up vaccine opportunities for anyone 12+ with all three authorized vaccines available to maximize vaccine uptake.
    • Hired one Hispanic and one Haitian Creole Community Health Worker who will be working primarily with poultry, agricultural, aquaculture and seasonal workers, which comprise a large part of the refugee, immigrant and migrant community.
Why is COVID-19 vaccination so important?

COVID-19 vaccination is an important tool to help us get back to normal; every vaccine administered helps us get closer to reaching population immunity. Population immunity means that enough people in a community are protected from getting a disease because they’ve already had the disease or because they’ve been vaccinated. Population immunity makes it hard for the disease to spread from person to person. It even protects those who cannot be vaccinated, like newborns or people who are allergic to the vaccine. Learn more about the benefits of getting vaccinated.

Why the focus on meat and poultry processing workers?

Initial cases of COVID-19 associated with meat and poultry processing plants were reported in Virginia in March of 2020. Cases peaked in April and May of 2020 with large outbreaks reported in several processing plants throughout the United States, including Virginia. Workers in these facilities need to work closely to one another, often for prolonged periods of time, making transmission of COVID-19 from one worker to another easy. Protecting this vulnerable workforce is important to protect both the workers, who produce the food we eat, and the communities in which they live.

In addition to vaccination, what other interventions were put in place to prevent the transmission of disease within these facilities and the wider communities in which they exist?

The Virginia Department of Health worked with affected facilities to put a variety of interventions in place to reduce disease transmission. The most common interventions implemented in Virginia included:

  • educating employees about the transmission of COVID-19
  • screening employees for signs and symptoms of illness
  • adding hand hygiene stations
  • adding physical barriers between workers where physical distancing was not possible, and
  • requiring universal face coverings

For more information about recommended interventions for meat and poultry processing facilities, check out the links below: