BERLIN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — At least 72 COVID-19 cases are associated with Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch south of Ionia.
The egg producer wouldn’t confirm a specific number of employees who have tested positive for the virus, so News 8 has relied on county health departments for the latest data. Those numbers include associated cases of people who contracted the virus after coming into contact with an employee.
Like all large employers seeing cases in Michigan, employees are being contacted and tracked by their respective county health departments.
“Essentially what happens is if a person from a particular county is positive, that person is that county’s responsibility and so they’re in charge of getting in touch with that person and then handling the contacts,” Ionia County Health Officer Ken Bowen told News 8. “But then, the way we’ve been doing it is if (people in contact with employees who tested positive are) from a particular county, then those contacts get passed on to that other county. So things can start to get pretty complicated.”
Here’s the breakdown of associated cases from county health departments where the people live. Some were able to specify how many are employees or contractors at Herbruck’s:
- Montcalm County: One positive Herbruck’s employee.
- Eaton County: Six cases associated to Herbruck’s.
- Ingham County: 17 positive employees, 11 identified contact cases (28 total).
- Ionia County: 27 positive employees or contractors, 10 identified contact cases (37 total).
The latest numbers from Ionia County more than doubled between Wednesday morning and afternoon.
“We had a couple of van loads of people who have been commuting to work together who one person came down with symptoms and then we tested the rest of them. Almost all of them were positive,” Bowen explained.
Bowen said his department, as well as others, are more concerned about contact tracing to identify other people who may become sick than the numbers themselves.
“My main take-home message for folks is that they should continue to expect to see outbreaks like this in workplaces,” he said. “People need to continue to work, but we’re staying on top of it as best we can. Again, we’re doing the contact tracing, tracking everybody down and those people, when they’re sick, they’re sent home and they stay home until they’re no longer contagious.”
Bowen said the risk of spread from eggs produced at Herbruck’s is “minimal” because the virus is generally passed through droplets infected people exhale, but also reminded buyers to wash their hands when handing raw eggs regardless of the virus.
Greg Herbruck, president of Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, provided this statement to News 8 Wednesday;
“At Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, the safety of our employees and customers is our top priority.
“Immediately following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order, Herbruck’s began working to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through aggressive testing and proactive, preventative measures consistent with CDC guidelines.
“Working in partnership with the health department, we have been proactively testing employees for COVID-19. This testing has revealed positive cases. The vast majority of these positive cases originate from an isolated group of employees from our night shift bird crew. Most were asymptomatic or showed very mild symptoms, if any. None of the positive cases have sought medical treatment and have been recovering at home. Some of the employees have already recovered and are eligible to return to work per CDC guidelines.
“We do not expect this to affect production or the delivery of products to stores.
“Herbruck’s is taking proactive, preventative measures consistent with CDC guidelines to keep employees safe and healthy and prevent the spread of COVID-19 – including strict biosecurity protocols, personal protection equipment for employees, working in pods to minimize the risk of contamination, rigorous sanitation practices and limiting access to our worksite by outside vendors.
“Employees are required to wear masks, safety glasses and rubber gloves while at work. Herbruck’s has provided employees with hand sanitizer and an extra mask for use when running essential errands outside of their homes. We are asking employees to be diligent about social distancing outside of work and to protect themselves if they live with others or if they carpool with people from outside their household.
“Herbruck’s also offers a free onsite Wellness Clinic for employees and their covered family members who have health concerns and a 24-7 hotline staffed by qualified health care professionals for questions and concerns related to the coronavirus or other health concerns.”