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Virus cases at Fairmont Foods, in county on rise

FAIRMONT — The number of COVID-19 cases at Fairmont Foods has grown, and is expected to rise.

Tim Langer, Community Health sanitarian with Human Services of Faribault and Martin Counties, issued a press release Tuesday noting that he is working with the Minnesota Department of Health, the company and local health care providers to tackle the outbreak.

“We are taking a united approach to this response by identifying people who are ill as quickly as possible, ensuring people get the medical care they need, and implementing additional screening and safety measures at the plant so it can continue to operate,” he said in the release. “Over the weekend, all plant employees were tested for COVID-19.”

In an interview with the Sentinel on Tuesday, Langer said he is confident that when test results come back, more cases will be identified among Fairmont Foods employees.

Langer noted that the number of COVID-19 cases in Martin County has grown to 52. It was 43 at this time last week. Of the cases, 13 are active, 35 have recovered and four people, all in their 80s, died from complications related to the virus.

Fairmont Foods on Friday announced that one of its employees had tested positive for COVID-19, and the company said the plant would be closed for operations until Monday evening. The Sentinel was not able to immediately confirm if the plant is operating again. Langer said Tuesday that he is unsure.

It is estimated the plant employs more than 300 workers. It produces frozen entrees and side dishes.

Langer said it can be difficult for workers in food-processing plants to properly social distance, creating an environment in which the virus can spread from person to person. And experience with COVID-19 has shown that there are many asymptomatic carriers.

He noted that Fairmont Foods has been “great to work with.” The company voluntarily committed to taking actions to respond to the virus.

Langer said his office also is working with Seneca Foods Corporation and Kerry Ingredients and Flavors in Blue Earth. Neither site was dealing with any COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday.

Langer said the top priority of Community Health is the health and safety of the plant workers, their families and the community. He said it is important that everyone continue to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He said this means:

1. Staying home unless you need to get essential items, seek medical care or work in an essential service.

2. Staying at least 6 feet from other people when you do go out.

3. Wearing a cloth mask.

4. Washing your hands often with soap and water, or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

5. Covering your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue.

He said those who have symptoms of COVID-19 — fever, cough, body aches, sore throat or shortness of breath — should stay home. People are asked to call their health care provider before going to a clinic or hospital. Health care providers will provide information about what to do.

Community Health staff at Human Services continue to operate a 24/7 hotline for anyone needing assistance with obtaining essential services, such as groceries or supplies. The service is available to help individuals safely isolate and quarantine as they recover from COVID-19. The hotline number is (507) 238-8434.

Community Health & Human Services of Faribault & Martin Counties provides daily COVID-19 updates on its Facebook page. Statewide COVID-19 information can be found on the Minnesota Department of Health website: www.health.state.mn.us

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