Concern remains over contact tracing among meat plant staff

Concerns remain over the tracing of close contacts among staff at meat plants who have become infected with Covid-19.

In the Dáil last week, independent TD for Roscommon-Galway, Denis Naughten, argued that contact tracing being carried out among factory staff had “fallen down fundamentally”, arguing that, in many instances, not all of their close contacts had been traced.

In response to this, Minister for Health Simon Harris said that, generally, 60% to 70% of close contacts of infected meat plant workers are followed up with, but that there are some challenges in communication.

After that, the Health Service Executive (HSE) addressed the issue, giving different figures, with Dr. Mai Mannix, the HSE’s director of public health in the mid-west, saying that community contact tracing (tracing contacts in the community or in public rather than workplace contacts) for meat plant staff infected with Covid-19 was “about 90% complete”.

This week, deputy Naughten again voiced his concerns, following communication between himself and Minister Harris.

“Neither the HSE nor the Minister for Health are prepared to provide the actual numbers of people contact traced and tested as a result of being in proximity of meat plant employees who tested positive for Covid-19,” the TD remarked.

Naughten argued that: “In recent weeks, the HSE has been playing with words rather than giving straight answers as to the contact tracing of meat plant workers and those in close contact with them.

Even though I asked a straight question of the Minister for Health in Dáil Éireann last week, I’m still waiting for an answer as to how many people have been traced and tested.

In his letter to deputy Naughten, Minister Harris confirmed that there had now been 1,091 cases of Covid-19 confirmed among meat plant staff. 29 of these individuals have been hospitalised and seven have been admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU).

Thankfully, there have not been any deaths among meat plant staff as a result of Covid-19 in the Republic of Ireland.

Minister Harris also confirmed the regional breakdown of the 20 plants that have seen outbreaks so far, according to HSE regions.

Nine of these plants are in HSE North East; three are in HSE Midlands; three are in HSE Midwest; two are in HSE East; and there is one plant in each of HSE South, HSE South East and HSE West.