Virginia sees rise in virus cases at poultry plants; plans to ramp up testing

Women purchasing a packet of meat at the supermarket(Getty Images/iStockphoto/VLG)
“These poultry plants are part of a vital part of food supply on the Eastern Shore in Virginia,” Gov. Ralph Northam said Monday. “I am very concerned.” (Getty Images/iStockphoto/VLG)

As a number of poultry processing facilities in Virginia see increased coronavirus cases, Gov. Ralph Northam said Monday that the commonwealth is working to stop the spread.

In a briefing Monday afternoon, Northam said that there’s a rising number of those cases, specifically at 10 locations in the Shenandoah Valley and the Eastern Shore.

“These poultry plants are part of a vital part of food supply on the Eastern Shore in Virginia,” Northam said. “I am very concerned.”

He said that about 3,000 people work in two plants on the Eastern Shore, and that many do not speak English, making isolation and quarantining there difficult.

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In a letter sent Friday to the White House, Northam — along with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Delaware Gov. John Carney — asked for a fully coordinated approach in dealing with the crisis in the poultry plants.

“The Delmarva is so interconnected that it needs a targeted and coordinated approach,” Northam said.

He added that a CDC team was expected to be in Virginia on Monday to start on an assessment and coordinated approach for reducing cases at the facilities. There are more than 120 meat processing facilities in Virginia.

Reopening businesses

Northam recently released a blueprint to reopening Virginia in phases, but said on Monday that there is not a date for those phases to begin.

“My goal certainly for all of Virginia, for all of our businesses, is to put this crisis behind us. We are in the middle of a health crisis and an economic crisis,” Northam said.

He launched the COVID-19 Business Task Force late last week to assist with reopening local businesses and organizations in a safe manner.

The task force includes two-dozen business leaders who are meeting via conference calls to brainstorm ways to move toward reopening businesses safely in the commonwealth.

On Monday, he mentioned the task force and their ongoing work saying, “the input that we’ve been receiving from these businesses have been invaluable.”

There might be some areas of Virginia that could open earlier than others, the governor said.

“The greatest example is in Bristol,” he said. “Is it really fair for Tennessee’s businesses to be open and Virginia’s not to be? I’m open minded to all of that and would say ‘stay tuned.'”

One of the major reasons why Virginia hasn’t gone into the first phase of the business reopening plan, Northam said, is because enough testing has not been done yet.

Increased testing

A major step in reopening businesses, Northam said, relies on increased testing throughout Virginia. Currently, testing has increased to 4,000 per day, but Northam said their goal is to administer 10,000 tests per day.

He reminded the community that for the first positive case on March 7, that test was sent to the CDC in Atlanta. “Since that time, we have evolved. Our state lab is now able to do 400 tests per day right here,” Northam said.

Local universities are helping with testing, as well as private labs and local in-house hospital labs.

There has also been a recent shipment of swabs for tests sent to Virginia by FEMA.

“Everyday, things will be improving. In order to reopen our economy, we need that increased testing,” Northam said.

Urging parents to keep up with vaccines

While there is not a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus just yet, Northam emphasized what he said was the importance in parents keeping up on the regularly recommended and required vaccines for their children during the pandemic.

“We don’t want to see an outbreak of Measles during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Northam said.

Hospitals and clinics are working to ensure that the environment is safe for parents and their children to keep up with these routine vaccinations.

Grant money to help with substance abuse during pandemic

On Monday, Northam announced a $2 million federal grant that was awarded to Virginia to fight substance abuse. The money will go to the 40 state Community Service Boards.

The funds will be used to help the boards continue treating behavioral health and substance abuse via telehealth and provide treatment for opioid abuse during the pandemic.

Other announcements

Northam discussed an order he signed moving May 5 local elections to May 19 and noted the importance of voting absentee by mail if possible.

The last day to request mail in absentee ballots In Virginia is Tuesday May 12. Absentee ballots are due May 19.

He also announced the production of masks by the state’s Department of Corrections. About 470,000 masks have been made and are being distributed to those in corrections facilities as well as to local police and firefighters.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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