- This week, Michigan ordered coronavirus testing for agricultural and food processing workers after 11 recent outbreaks at farms and food plants in the state, the Associated Press reported.
- The order applies to meat, poultry and egg facilities, as well as greenhouses and employers that hire migrant workers who don't live on-site. Those employers, with more than 20 workers on-site at a time, must test all employees once, then any new employees and workers with symptoms or exposure to the coronavirus.
- "The men and women who work in our fields and food processing plants are at particular risk for COVID-19, and they need and deserve protection," Robert Gordon, director of Michigan's health department, said in a statement. "Today’s order will help to reduce the spread of COVID in communities across Michigan and reduce the pandemic’s disparate impact on Latinos."
As outbreaks at food processors continue to spread across the country, more testing could be the next solution.
When the pandemic hit the U.S., meat plants quickly became hotbeds for coronavirus. Then outbreaks then spread to other food processing plants and farms. Overall, more than 50,000 workers in meatpacking, food processing and farm workers have tested positive for coronavirus and more than 232 have died, according to the Food & Environment Reporting Network.
Even after temporarily closing plants and implementing measures like plastic barriers, mask requirements and temperature checks, coronavirus has continued to spread through plants where employees often work very close to one another.
According to tracking by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services cited by Detroit News, there were 604 new coronavirus cases and six new deaths reported in the state on Monday — raising the totals in Michigan to 83,386 positive cases and 6,212 deaths. From a Kraft Heinz food plant to meatpacking facilities, the virus has spread throughout factories in Michigan, as well as at farms and greenhouses.
To stop the spread among food workers, of which many are immigrants, Michigan is now requiring employers complete a plan by Aug. 10 for how they will conduct testing and then they must finish baseline testing and implementation of ongoing testing by Aug. 24., according to the order.
The health department said in its announcement that companies have several options for completing the required testing, including contracting with a medical provider or laboratory to arrange a testing program or requesting state assistance to conduct testing. Coronavirus tests can be costly, but in Michigan's case there are state grants available to help employers with the costs. If this new testing mandate works to quell numbers in Michigan, other states could look to issue similar orders.
This isn't the first move by the state to increase safety at food processing facilities. In July, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also signed an executive order requiring PPE for employees at meatpacking plants.
Michigan's latest order comes a week after Tyson Foods announced it is starting a new testing and monitoring program at all 140 of its production facilities, where the company will now test its workers for coronavirus weekly. Tyson also created a chief medical officer position and plans to add nearly 200 nurses and administrative support personnel for its new program.
With both one of the largest meat processors in the U.S. and all of the food plants in the state of Michigan implementing testing, it could spark a change at food facilities across the country to start testing employees regularly.