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expert comments about meat processing plants and slaughterhouses and COVID-19 outbreaks

There have been questions form journalists about meat processing plants and slaughterhouses and COVID-19 outbreaks.

 

Prof Lawrence Young, Professor of Molecular Oncology, University of Warwick, said:

“Factories and, in particular, indoor areas which are cold and damp are perfect environments for coronavirus to linger and spread.  The virus survives on cold surfaces and, in the absence of ventilation and sunlight, virus-containing droplets from infected individuals are more likely to spread, settle and stay viable.

“In these enclosed areas and on busy production lines social distancing is more difficult.  Speaking loudly or shouting across the noise of machinery can also result in the production of more infectious droplets and aerosols.

“All of this confirms the importance of testing individuals for symptoms in the workplace – testing of all people for infectious virus in workplaces would be very difficult; we just need to pay attention to symptoms, routinely check body temperature and insist that people report any other symptoms – dry coughs, loss of taste/smell.”

 

Prof Rowland Kao, Sir Timothy O’Shea Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Data Science, University of Edinburgh, said:

“Meat factories and slaughterhouses are locations where people are engaged in higher levels of physical activity, and where maintaining physical distancing in internal spaces will be difficult, and difficult to monitor.  Both these factors may increase the likelihood of transmission.  Low temperatures have also been shown to result in higher rates of transmission of influenza in experimental studies, and to improve the survival of other coronaviruses such as MERS-CoV.  While this is not proven for COVID-19, similar mechanisms may apply.”

 

Prof James Wood, Head of Department of Veterinary Medicine, and researcher in Infection dynamics and control of diseases, University of Cambridge, said:

“If we do see outbreaks in slaughterhouses, one issue could be the challenges of avoiding close working between individuals on fast moving slaughterlines and the substantial air movement that exists in and across many slaughterhouses and meat plants.  That having been said, many meat plants do have established practices that involve standard use of PPE which they should find relatively easy to extend.

“Cold temperature is another interesting hypothesis but I think we need more evidence about the virus to be sure about that.

“If the outbreaks are large that might suggest that there may be continued transmission in some plants, raising the question of whether people are coming to work when unwell.”

 

 

All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:

www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/covid-19

 

Declared interests

None received.

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