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Community contact tracing for one meat plant is at 73%, not 90%, department confirms

There has been some confusion about the level of contact tracing at meat processing plants.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/chainarong06

COMMUNITY CONTACT TRACING remains at 73% in relation to one meat processing plant that experienced a Covid-19 outbreak – not 90%, as previously stated – the Department of Health has confirmed.

Almost 1,100 Covid-19 cases have been confirmed at 22 meat plants around the country to date.

Earlier this month there was confusion about the level of contract tracing completed at one particular plant.

On 5 June, the HSE said there was just one meat plant where contact tracing was at around 60-70%. The day before, Health Minister Simon Harris told the Dáil that contact tracing was about 60-70% in general, rather than at just one facility, seeming to have incorrect information.

In a letter to independent TD Denis Naughten, who sought clarity on the figures, on 10 June, Harris stated: “Following our exchange and media coverage of it, the HSE further clarified that the figure provided in my answer referred to community contacts in one single outbreak location.

“Further checking and validation of figures from this location provided an up to date estimate of 90%.”

However, the correct number in relation to this plant is in fact 73%, figures released to Naughten show.

Screenshot 2020-06-24 at 15.46.28 Source: Department of Health

There are two categories of contact tracing – workplace contacts and community contacts.

All workplace contacts at affected meat plants have been contacted. This tends to be relatively straightforward as these contacts are readily identifiable through the workplace itself.

27% of people ‘did not engage’

Community contacts are typically more difficult to complete – people who fall into this category include those who live or socialise with a person who has Covid-19, or even someone who met them briefly.

Bar the one facility where it is at 73%, community contact tracing ranges from 92-100% at meat plants.

“Making contact with community contacts in any outbreak situation can prove more difficult than workplace contacts,” a department spokesperson noted when asked for comment by TheJournal.ie. 

“For example the person may not answer the phone or there might be an error in the contact details given for them or there might be a transcription error with phone numbers.”

They said the department “understood that a figure of 90% applied to the facility in question” following the HSE press conference on 5 June. However, they added that it has since been clarified that this figure of 90% “was the overall percentage across all outbreak sites nationally”.

“It has now been confirmed that, with regard to one particular location, while all work and travelling close contacts were identified and contacted, that 27% did not engage with the contact tracing process despite multiple attempts,” they stated.

‘Lessons have been learned’

Two more cases of Covid-19 among meat plant workers, but no new clusters, were confirmed at the Department of Health’s press briefing on Monday.

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Dr Ronan Glynn, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, told reporters the measures that have been introduced at meat plants “appear to have worked in suppressing the outbreaks that have happened to date”.

“Clearly a lot will have been learned in terms of what’s worked and what didn’t work in response to those individual outbreaks and at a national level,” he said.

Glynn added that national guidance is now in place and “hopefully the employers and the employees are far more informed than they might have been previously”.

He said the key message for employees, whether they work at a meat processing facility or any other business, is to stay at home if they have any Covid-19 symptoms and contact their GP for further advice.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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