Local health officials say they’re keeping a close eye on an outbreak of COVID-19 at a Farbest Foods Inc. facility in Dubois County, but say there is no real connection between that processing plant and the one here.
Officials in Dubois County and with Farbest Foods on Monday confirmed to local news outlets that more than 100 employees at the facility in Huntingburg have tested positive for the coronavirus.
More tests are pending, and mandatory testing began on May 15.
Knox County health officer Dr. Alan Stewart said he’s been in close contact with officials at the company's plant in the U.S. 41 Industrial Park since the COVID-19 outbreak began back in March, and he’s confident there is no greater risk to the local facility.
There was one manager, he said, who previously had traveled between the two plants, but he's stayed here in Vincennes since the outbreak began.
“So there are no physical people going between the two plants, not anymore,” he said. “That was one of the first (precautionary) steps they took, and I thought that was good.”
Stewart, too, sang Farbest’s praises in terms of all they’ve done to protect their employees in the last several weeks.
In addition to communicating often and well with local health officials and eliminating the movement of managers between plants, they also installed a scanning machine that automatically takes employees’ temperature when they come in.
They’ve adhered well to Stewart’s stricter policies of when to send employees with a temperature home and how long to keep them there if they have been exposed to the coronavirus.
They’ve also done away with any “negative incentives,” Stewart said, based on attendance, or lack thereof.
“They’ve been monitoring everyone very closely,” Stewart said.
Still, the outbreak in Dubois County, Stewart said, should serve as a lesson for just how quickly the virus can spread once it reaches a congested location.
Dubois County, like Knox County, had a relatively low number of cases prior to the outbreak.
Now, they have 162, according to the Indiana State Department of Health figures on Tuesday.
Only Vanderburgh County (223) has reported more cases in Southwestern Indiana, although Greene County has reported 161.
In District 10, which includes both Knox and Dubois counties as well as Vanderburgh County, 722 cases of COVID-19 have been reported with 46 deaths.
The infectious rate is 7% throughout the district, less than half the state average of 15%.
Knox County's rate is below 4%, with about 1.5% of the county's population having been tested.
Dubois County has tested almost twice as many residents as Knox County; more than half of those tests have been of Farbest employees conducted by the Indiana State Department of Health Strike Team, which was in Dubois County last week.
Farbest's Huntingburg plant is at least the fourth Indiana meat or poultry processing plant that has faced outbreaks of COVID-19 among its workforce similar to others in the industry across the country.
“Farbest is doing a lot of things right,” Stewart said. “But it doesn’t mean (an outbreak) can’t happen here tomorrow.
“Once it gets inside a place, it’s hard to get out.”
Knox County did register a new case — the 23rd that's known to health officials — on Monday evening, Stewart said.
This case — and the two before it — resulted in people who live in Knox County but work outside the county.
The patient is recovering at home and “doing well,” according to a press release sent out by the county’s Joint Information Center.
Contacts, too, have been located, notified and placed in a two-week isolation in their homes.
There are now two active COVID-19 cases here.
Editor and publisher Gayle R. Robbins contributed to this report.