UNMC experts develop COVID-19 guidelines for meat processing facilities

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations | May 01, 2020

Image with caption: From left, Jocelyn Herstein, Ph.D., infectious disease expert for the Global Center for Health Security, and Shelly Schwedhelm, executive director of emergency management and biopreparedness for Nebraska Medicine and executive director of emergency management for the Global Center for Health Security at UNMC, was part of a  team of experts that toured 10 meatpacking plants over the past two weeks to provide technical assistance and further develop guidelines to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while the facilities continue to operate.

From left, Jocelyn Herstein, Ph.D., infectious disease expert for the Global Center for Health Security, and Shelly Schwedhelm, executive director of emergency management and biopreparedness for Nebraska Medicine and executive director of emergency management for the Global Center for Health Security at UNMC, was part of a team of experts that toured 10 meatpacking plants over the past two weeks to provide technical assistance and further develop guidelines to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while the facilities continue to operate.

Infectious disease and public health experts at the UNMC Global Center for Health Security and College of Public Health have developed a set of guidelines for meat processing facilities that include strategies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while the facilities continue to operate.

The guide is intended to provide best practices and recommendations for meat processing facilities to minimize the risk that COVID-19 poses to employees and the community.

Experts at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine developed the recommended measures following an "exhaustive literature search to see what was out there in terms of best practices and industry-specific information," said Jocelyn Herstein, Ph.D., infectious disease expert for the Global Center for Health Security. Dr. Herstein and a team of experts toured 10 meatpacking plants over the past two weeks to provide technical assistance and further develop the guidelines, titled "Meat Processing Facility COVID-19 Playbook."

"The recommendations are based on the 'hierarchy of controls,' a hazard mitigation framework that outlines controls from most to least effective: engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment (PPE)," said Shelly Schwedhelm, executive director of emergency management and biopreparedness for Nebraska Medicine and executive director of emergency management for the Global Center for Health Security at UNMC.

James Lawler, M.D., executive director of International Programs and Innovation for the Global Center for Health Security at UNMC, said the team worked to adapt infection control measures and practices commonly implemented in a health care and field environments to identify COVID-19 control measures that could be implemented in meatpacking plants.

"For engineering controls, we were looking at strategies such as physical barriers and ventilation systems to protect workers," Dr. Lawler said. "These are purposeful interventions to limit the spread of the virus."

Administrative controls might include worker screening strategies, policies, such as a non-punitive, paid sick-leave policies during this pandemic, staggered break schedules, or systematic cleaning and disinfection schedules. PPE strategies include all workers wearing masks before entering the plant and throughout their shift.

"We recommend processes to provide masks, screen workers for COVID-19 symptoms, perform temperature checks, stagger breaks and shift changes, and maximize opportunities for social distancing," Schwedhelm said.

Experts from the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, based at UNMC, helped develop the playbook and checklist and are working to adapt these resources to guide COVID-19 safety measures for workers in other agricultural sectors.

"It is our top priority to protect the health of workers and their families who are braving the COVID-19 pandemic to put food on everyone's tables," said John-Martin Lowe, Ph.D., assistant vice chancellor for Health Security Training and Education at UNMC.

Note: See the training reference materials for meat processing facilities.

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Bruno
May 08, 2020 at 8:17 AM

"Guidelines" "recommended" "might include" "we were looking at strategies" "could be (implemented" What do you think these words mean? Did you see the word "require" anywhere? They mean the plants are free to ignore them, especially when the President uses his power to ORDER them to open and yet does not order them to implement any safety standards.

Danna Dartenay
May 05, 2020 at 4:20 PM

The guidelines sound like they would be effective in limiting exposure. Are they required of the meat processing companies or are they voluntary?

Lisa Runco
May 01, 2020 at 8:02 AM

A truly outstanding team addressing critical needs in our rural communities. Thank you!