LONG PRAIRIE, Minn. -- An outbreak at Long Prairie Packing Co. is contributing to the precipitous rise in COVID-19 cases in Todd County, a public health official confirmed Friday, May 22.

Katherine Mackedanz, Todd County community health manager, said the county’s health and human services department is working in partnership with Lakewood Health System and packing plant owner American Foods Group to test all employees of the beef processing facility. About 630 people work at the plant. Todd County reported 24 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, May 22, for a total of 140. A month earlier on April 22, just two cases had been reported in the county, and since Monday, May 18, cases have nearly doubled.

While practitioners from Lakewood were already conducting on-site testing at the packing facility for employees experiencing symptoms, the operation expanded Thursday to include everyone regardless of symptoms. Tests were completed for 170 employees Thursday and another 160 on Friday.

“The purpose of the testing is to find those workers who are infectious with the virus and to isolate them by having them stay home to limit the spread of the disease in the plant and the community,” a news release stated. “Employees who are tested will receive their results from Lakewood Health System within 48 hours.”

As results trickle in and with more testing ahead, Mackedanz said she expected to be able to offer more specific information concerning the number directly linked to the plant who’ve tested positive by early next week. She said those who’ve tested positive so far have displayed mild symptoms or have been asymptomatic. There are no hospitalizations tied to the plant outbreak as of Friday, and she noted the population is primarily younger and in good health.

A report released May 8 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined outbreaks in meat and poultry processing facilities in 19 states. At that time, outbreaks were noted in 115 processing facilities with 4,913 cases and 20 deaths.

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