The state rushed newly acquired testing supplies and personal protection gear into southwest Kansas to bolster the response to expanding clusters of coronavirus infection linked to the region’s large meat processing facilities, officials said Monday.
Mike Beam, secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said Ford, Seward and Finney counties in southwest Kansas and Lyon County all host processing facilities that have been challenged by spread of the virus. COVID-19 has killed 100 Kansans and infected nearly 2,000 people during the past two months.
"This is not a food safety issue," Beam said. "There is no evidence of food-to-food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.
On Monday, Ford County reported 180 positive cases of the coronavirus, while Seward County had 79 and Finney County was at 38. The Ford and Seward county totals reflected double-digit increases from Sunday. Additional resources are being moved by the state to Lyon County, which has 39 confirmed cases.
The plants operated by Cargill, Tyson and National Beef have each had employees test positive. In Kansas, these companies process as much as 25% of the country’s beef.
"Sustaining the supply chain is a priority in Kansas, especially those vital beef processing facilities," Beam said during a briefing with Gov. Laura Kelly. "We recognize that there has been considerable tension in the national media on the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce."
Kelly said 7,000 test kits were send by the federal government to Kansas based on her weekend appeal for the tools to more effective track the outbreak and protect operation of the packing plants.
"Agriculture is a facet of our state’s most critical infrastructure — Kansas doesn’t just feed the state, we feed the world," the governor said. "This is particularly true of our front line workers in meatpacking plants across the state who process a significant portion of the nation’s supply."
She said the Kansas Department of Health and Environment was collaborating with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track clusters around the processing plants.
Beam said plant operators were installing more safety equipment and altering production processes to limit spread of the virus. Employees at the plants are at risk of catching the virus because they employ thousands of people who frequently work in close quarters, he said.