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Collaborative COVID-19 testing site aims to assist meat plant employees

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MOWER COUNTY, Minn. (KTTC) -- A new partnership in Mower County is working on pushing out a community health initiative to "keep COVID out."

Mower County Public Health, Mayo Clinic Health System, Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors are coming together to create a COVID-19 testing program for its teammates and their family members. Local leaders shared the news in a ZOOM call Thursday afternoon.

"As of this morning, we have 604 cases," Community Health Division Manager of Mower County Public Health Pam Kellogg said. "We're seeing a variety of cases coming from a variety of different places."

As of Thursday, there are 604 COVID-19 cases in Mower County. Nearly 200 active cases are from plant employees. To break it down, there are about 1,800 employees at the Hormel Foods Austin plant. 783 plant employees have been tested for the virus. In total, there have been 80 positive cases. 61 cases are still active, however, according to Hormel Foods Austin Plant Manager Clint Walters, that number is expected to go down to 41 active cases come Monday. At the Austin Quality Pork Processors, there are about 1,300 employees, with more than 90 active cases. 100 plant employees have recovered from the virus. As for the Albert Lea Select Foods plant, out of its 500 employees, there are 47 active cases and 18 recovered plant employees.

While many of Mower County's virus cases come from meat plant employees, it doesn't necessarily mean there's an outbreak within the plants.

"We've had many people just this week, a couple positive cases that had not been to work since May 25th, May 27th, for multiple weeks because they're had a household positive case and were quarantining and now just this week they are coming back positive. So, it reports as a case at the Austin plant but in reality they haven't been here in multiple weeks," Walters said. "So, that's what we are fighting right now."

'Keeping COVID out,' is the main goal for Mower County's "Community Health First" program.

"This is the next natural, best step, how do we get the households and communities to drive that forward," Walters said.

That next step is a collaboration with heavy hitters in the community: Mayo Clinic Health Systems, Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors.

"It really starts as people come in, how do you keep COVID out?" Quality Pork Processors President Nate Jansen said.

A COVID-19 testing site for plant employees and their family members.

"We're really happy to be apart of this community effort in trying to figure out the COVID that's happening in Mower County," Mayo Clinic Health System - Albert Lea and Austin CEO Mark Ciota said.

All in an effort to stop the spread -- and better serve the community during this time of crisis.

"This is allowing anyone who has concern and their household to get tested, which is a more holistic approach of stopping the spread of COVID-19," Hormel Food Human Resources Director Katie Larson said.

"When we do have employees call in and report that they have a symptom and can't come into work, we're getting them tested, not only manage if they are a COVID positive, but also manage that anxiety whether somebody has the COVID-19 virus or not," Vice President of Quality Management at Hormel Foods Richard Carlson said. "So, it's been really great having this partnership with the Mower County and the Mayo Clinic here in Austin."

"They're health and safety is our top priority through this," Jansen said.

The testing site was up and running as of Thursday at 11 a.m. Community testing will still be available through Mayo Clinic Health Systems.

Beret Leone

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