Here's how bad coronavirus has been in Delaware's poultry industry
Nearly six months into the coronavirus pandemic, a total of 1,032 Delaware poultry workers have been infected with the virus and seven have died, according to new data released by the state on Tuesday.
This means about 6% of confirmed Delaware COVID-19 cases involve poultry processing plant workers. As of Aug. 25, Delaware health officials have confirmed 16,986 coronavirus cases and 604 related deaths.
This data provides the first glimpse of the toll COVID-19 has had on one of Delaware's major industries. Until now, the state had not provided information on the number of workers who had been confirmed with or died from COVID-19.
Jennifer Brestel, a spokeswoman for the Division of Public Health, said these cases are among residents who identified as working in the poultry industry and may include plants based in Delaware and Maryland.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of April, 9,411 people worked in Delaware's six plants. In the Delmarva region, the industry employs more than 20,000 people.
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This spring, Gov. John Carney declared Sussex County to be a COVID-19 hot spot. Small towns, including Seaford and Georgetown, saw some of the highest numbers of cases, particularly among Latino and Haitian immigrant communities.
Many of these Sussex County residents work in the chicken plants, where they must stand close together, not adhering to social distancing guidelines.
Many of the workers also live in crowded multi-family houses and apartments where the virus can easily spread.
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Delaware Latinos have the highest rate of infection among any racial group in the state — five times as high as the rate in white residents. The rate of testing among Latinos also exceeds all other racial groups in the state, according to the data.
Only two Delaware processing plants, Mountaire Farms and Perdue Farms, have publicly confirmed cases.
This spring, plant workers told Delaware Online/The News Journal that the lack of social distancing and information about confirmed cases put them at a high risk of contracting the virus.
Videos and photos shared with The News Journal from inside one Delaware plant in early April show workers standing and walking closely together, nowhere near 6 feet apart.
When the outbreak occurred this spring, the state assisted the plants with universal testing of all of their workers.
Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, said Tuesday that, as of more than a week ago, the state has not seen a positive case among poultry workers in a "couple of months."
Rattay said the plants are not mandated to report cases among workers to the state.
"The best way for us to get the information, in any employment setting," she said, "is the questions we ask during case investigation."
Contact Meredith Newman at (302) 324-2386 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @merenewman.