This is a developing story and may be udpated.
The West Virginia National Guard began conducting tests for COVID-19 this week at a poultry processing plant in Moorefield, Hardy County. According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, the number of positive tests in the county have increased recently.
In a virtual press conference Friday, Gov. Jim Justice said members of the National Guard would be sent to Moorefield to respond to testing needs at Pilgrim’s Pride, a chicken processing plant that’s the largest employer in the county.
Testing at the Pilgrim’s Pride plant of about 940 workers in Moorefield will occur on every shift, Hardy County sheriff’s office spokesman David Maher said in a news release. The office is handling media requests for the health department.
“We appreciate the ongoing cooperation of Pilgrim’s Pride and the many folks in our community that work in the processing plant,” said Hardy County Health Department administrator William Ours in a prepared statement. “We have a shared goal of keeping everyone healthy and ensuring the ongoing safe operation of our food processing facilities.”
Pilgrim’s Pride spokeswoman Nikki Richardson said in a statement that workers at the plant will have a “choice” to be tested.
“The health and safety of our team members remains our highest priority. We have implemented a wide of [sic] range of measures at our facility to combat coronavirus,” Richardson said. “Today, every Pilgrim’s facility temperature checks 100 percent of the workforce before they enter a facility. We also provide and require face masks to be worn at all times on company property.”
She also said the company will not punish workers for not coming into work for health reasons.
The sheriff’s office spokesman, David Maher, said he thinks there “were a few cases related to the plant” but he did not elaborate, and Pilgrim’s won’t say either.
Richardson said some Pilgrim’s Pride employees across the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19, but that “out of respect for the families, we are not releasing further information.”
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Hardy County jumped from three on April 27 to 16 as of Monday morning, according to DHHR’s coronavirus tracker and the Hardy County Health Department’s Facebook page.
Meat processing plant workers are an especially vulnerable population during this crisis. Thousands of workers have tested positive for the coronavirus at meat processing plants across the country leading to the closure of some plants and prompting meat shortages.
Gov. Jim Justice requested the tests at the Moorefield plant, which remains open.
“We’re going to do some extensive testing there and try to nip that in the bud and stop it as fast as we possibly can in order to be able to keep that plant moving,” Justice said Friday.
Additionally, the National Guard will also be helping the local Hardy County Health Department with contact tracing and recommendations for self-isolation.
At least 54 people in West Virginia have died from the virus and 1,366 have tested positive, according to DHHR on Monday morning.
For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe illness or death. For most people, it causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks.