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Perdue Farms takes further steps against coronavirus spread in Salisbury poultry plant

Following recommendations this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Perdue Farms said it has implemented additional safety measures at its processing facility in Salisbury to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The processing plant and other facilities on the Delmarva peninsula have made the area one of the nation’s coronavirus hot spots. Perdue said the CDC visited the plant earlier this month and provided a report to the company this week with suggestions on additional measures to “bolster” the protocols already in place.

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Among the recommendations that Perdue said it has started implementing is removing existing fans from its processing area. According to the CDC’s guidelines for meat and poultry processing plants, fans that blow air from one worker directly at another can potentially spread airborne or aerosolized viruses.

Perdue spokeswoman Diana Souder said the company is replacing the old fans with individual ones that blow air at each employee instead to keep them cool.

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Other recommendations are to periodically assess the facility for risks and continue training staff on controlling the contagion. With many of its workers Hispanic or Haitian, that training and other information is provided in English, Spanish and Creole, Perdue said.

The company also is discouraging carpooling to work to help limit the spread of the virus, and offering guidance on lessening their risk when sharing rides, but advocates say some workers can’t afford to buy their own cars.

Souder said Perdue has been providing information from the Maryland Department of Health on how to clean car interiors, open windows at least three inches for ventilation and use masks to make carpooling safer.

Perdue declined to release the CDC report itself. A CDC spokesman called Perdue’s press release about the report accurate.

The company said it has been checking workers’ temperatures before they enter the plant and providing masks, hand sanitizer and knee-pedal hand washing stations. It also has installed plastic partitions between workers on the assembly line and implemented an extensive cleaning process.

Outbreaks of the coronavirus have struck processing plants across the nation, leading to criticism that companies had not adequately protected employees whose arduous work often put them shoulder-to-shoulder on assembly lines. Some plants have had to shut down and millions of animals have been destroyed for lack of enough workers to butcher and pack them. Still, President Trump has ordered plants to stay open to prevent shortages.

In Maryland, state officials said Friday, 528 people associated with the poultry industry have tested positive for the virus, with 377 of them living in Salisbury’s Wicomico County. Not all work at Perdue, with some commuting to facilities such as Amick Farms in Dorchester County or processing plants in Delaware and Virginia.

Health officials have ramped up testing of poultry workers and their families in the past month. Testing at Perdue has been completed, they say, and a majority of the Amick workers have been tested as well.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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