An outbreak at yet another Minnesota meat plant, Long Prairie Packing, sparked a more than sixfold increase in COVID-19 cases in Todd County over the past two weeks.
The county’s case count stood at 296 Thursday, including 227 workers at the beef-processing plant in the central Minnesota city of Long Prairie, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The case numbers jumped from 42 on May 7 to 247 by May 21.
The plant is now home to the state’s third-largest workplace cluster of COVID-19 diagnoses after the JBS pork facility in Worthington and Pilgrim’s Pride chicken operation in Cold Spring, which respectively had 704 and 251 cases as of Thursday.
The spike in diagnoses at Long Prairie Packing came relatively late compared to outbreaks at JBS, Pilgrim’s Pride and other Minnesota meat processors.
The beef packer had installed dividers between workers, regularly taken employees’ temperatures and implemented many other safety measures, said Jennifer Christensen, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189, which represents hourly workers there.
“Everything that you want to do to keep workers safe, they are doing,” she said. The plant “has had good working conditions, and there is still illness.”
The case numbers rose quickly as Long Prairie Packing began testing all of its more than 600 employees, Christensen said, applauding the testing effort. The company is working with Todd County Health & Human Services and Lakewood Health System to do the testing.
Several meatpacking plants in the Midwest have not done large-scale testing of their workers, prompting criticism from some health and safety advocates.
The Minnesota Department of Health tested JBS’ more than 2,000 employees in Worthington after the company balked at doing so.
Long Prairie Packing slaughters cattle and produces steaks, ground beef and other products. It is part of American Foods Group, which is ultimately owned by Rosen’s Diversified in Fairmont. American Foods Group did not respond to a request for comment.
Five Jennie-O turkey-processing plants in Minnesota have been hit by COVID-19, and together 303 of their employees tested positive as of Thursday, according to the state health department.
Comfrey Farm Prime Pork in Windom had 70 cases Thursday; Monogram Meat Snacks in Chandler, 58; and Fairmont Foods, a frozen food maker, in Fairmont, 31.