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National Guard conducts testing at two Kenosha meat processing facilities
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National Guard conducts testing at two Kenosha meat processing facilities

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CORONAVIRUS CELL

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. The sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S.

With meat processing facilities at the center of COVID-19 hot spots — and with two employees of Calumet Diversified Meats in Pleasant Prairie dying of the virus — the Wisconsin National Guard tested employees of both Diversified and Kenosha Beef International.

The Kenosha County Division of Health worked with the National Guard and the companies to conduct testing, which was done at Calumet on May 2 and at Kenosha Beef in the town of Paris on May 5 and 6.

Of the 135 employees tested at Calumet, 22 employees tested positive, according to the health department. At Kenosha Beef, 419 workers were tested with 15 positive tests and additional test results being returned Friday.

Those positive test result numbers included only tests conducted of employees by the National Guard, not the number of workers who had previously been diagnosed with the virus. The cumulative number of employees who have tested positive at the two facilities were not available Friday.

The health department statement said no employees of Kenosha Beef have been hospitalized with the virus. Two Calumet workers have died—a 51-year-old man who died April 17 and a 63-year-old man who died May 1. The health department said one of those men had additional health conditions but would not identify which.

The National Guard earlier had conducted testing at the Kenosha County Detention Center and pretrial facility, where a total of 83 inmates and 19 staff members have tested positive.

Calumet and Kenosha Beef both cooperated with the company-wide testing. According to a statement from the health department, both companies have taken measures before the testing to try to prevent the spread of the virus.

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At Kenosha Beef, two production lines were shut down after the company had its first positive test. Employees were given thermometers and required to wear masks.

Calumet did not respond to earlier requests for comment, and a person who answered the phone at the company Friday said the company have no comment.

Dennis Vignieri, president and chief operating officer of Kenosha Beef, told the Kenosha News last week that the company had modified shifts based on the number of positive tests among employees prior to the National Guard testing.

Employees on 14-day quarantine were being paid without using sick time. Those employees who were considered high risk of complications if they contracted the virus or who lived with someone who was at high risk were able to remain at home with the assurance they would not lose their jobs, he said.

“The safety, health and well-being of all of our employees is number one priority,” Vignieri said in a statement provided by the health department. “We are doing everything within our capacity to mitigate the negative effect of the virus.”

According to the county both companies are checking employee temperatures and doing symptom screenings. They have started staggered breaks and lunches and have installed plexiglass on the lunch tables to divide employees.

Countywide, 650 people have tested positive for the virus and 15 people have died. Statewide, 9,590 people have tested positive with 375 new cases reported Friday. A total of 384 have died.

As tests have become more widely available the number of people who have less severe cases have been identified and hospitalization rates have fallen to 18%. More than 97,000 people statewide who have been tested for the virus have had negative test results.

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