Peer-Reviewed Journal Details
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Walshe, N;Fennelly, M;Hellebust, S;Wenger, J;Sodeau, J;Prentice, M;Grice, C;Jordan, V;Comerford, J;Downey, V;Perrotta, C;Mulcahy, G;Sammin, D
Frontiers In Public Health
Assessment of Environmental and Occupational Risk Factors for the Mitigation and Containment of a COVID-19 Outbreak in a Meat Processing Plant
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Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, meat processing plants have been vulnerable to outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Transmission of the virus is difficult to control in these settings because of a combination of factors including environmental conditions and the specific nature of the work. This paper describes a retrospective outbreak investigation in a meat processing plant, a description of the measures taken to prevent or contain further outbreaks, and insights on how those with specific knowledge of the working environment of these plants can collaborate with public health authorities to ensure optimal outbreak control. The plant experienced 111 confirmed positive asymptomatic cases in total with an estimated attack rate of 38% during a five-week period. 4 weeks after the first case, mass screening of all workers was conducted by the public health authorities. Thirty-two workers tested positive, of which 16 (50%) worked in one particular area of the plant, the boning hall (n = 60). The research team prepared and carried out semi-structured interviews with the plant personnel who were charged with COVID control within the plant. They carried out assessments of operational risk factors and also undertook air quality monitoring in the boning hall and abattoir. The air quality measurements in the boning hall showed a gradual build-up of carbon dioxide and aerosol particles over the course of a work shift, confirming that this poorly ventilated area of the plant had an environment that was highly favorable for aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Assessment of operational conditions incorporated visual surveys of the plant during the working day. Prior to and during the first 2 weeks of the outbreak, multiple measures were introduced into the plant by management, including physical distancing, provision of educational material to workers, visitor restrictions, and environmental monitoring. After the implementation of these measures and their progressive refinement by plant management, the factory had no further linked cases (clusters) or outbreaks for the following 198 days. The tailored approach to risk mitigation adopted in this meat processing plant shows that generic risk mitigation measures, as recommended by public health authorities, can be successfully adapted and optimized by designated plant emergency response teams.

Grant Details
Science Foundation Ireland
COVID Rapid Response grant 20/COV/8436