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Employees at meat plants had to wait 16 days to be re-tested for Covid-19

More than 1,000 cases of the virus have been reported across 20 facilities nationwide.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Horth Rasur

THIRTEEN EMPLOYEES AT meat factories did not receive results from initial Covid-19 tests carried out at the facilities where they work and had to be re-tested.

The average waiting time for people to be re-tested was 16 days.

Mass testing was carried out at a number of facilities in recent weeks due to outbreaks of the virus among workers.

Almost 1,100 Covid-19 cases have been confirmed at 20 meat plants around the country to date.

Thirteen staff in two facilities did not receive a result from the initial mass testing, as of 10 June.

Eleven of these employees did not receive a result from the initial test as it was ‘not tested’. According to the HSE, ‘not tested’ refers to a problem occurring with the swab on way to a laboratory, meaning it cannot be processed; this includes labelling errors.

Two of these workers did not receive a result from the initial test as the result was ‘invalid’ – meaning that there was no reaction to the material sent to the laboratory.

As a result of these issues, 11 employees were re-tested via swabs with an average waiting time of 16 days to be re-tested. The remaining two staff members underwent antibody testing instead.

The figures were released to independent TD Denis Naughten by the HSE in a response to a parliamentary question directed to Health Minister Simon Harris.

Naughten has criticised the fact employees had to wait an average of 16 days to be re-tested – two days longer that the recommended self-isolation period – saying this was unacceptable.

“My understanding is that in all instances where there was general screening done of meat plant staff and nursing home staff, all [who were asymptomatic] remained within the workplace, until they received notice of a positive result,” Naughten told TheJournal.ie.

The majority of cases in meat plants have been male and aged 25-44, 29 people had to be admitted to hospital and seven patients were treated in ICU, but there have been no deaths.

Confusion over contact tracing

Earlier this month there was confusion about the level of contract tracing completed in relation to Covid-19 cases at meat factories.

On 5 June, the HSE said there was just one meat plant where contact tracing was at around 60-70%.

Dr Mai Mannix, Chairperson of the HSE’s National Outbreak Control Team, told a press conference that workplace contact tracing was at 100% in affected meat plants and at about 90% in terms of community contact.

“The information I have from speaking with my colleagues around the country is that this is about 90% complete in most instances – there was one facility where the estimate was 60-70%,” Mannix said.

The day before, 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 Naughten 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%.”

Naughten has accused the HSE and Department of Health of being “less than transparent” about the figures and called for clarity on this issue.

“Testing and delivering results in the shortest time possible is the key to success in managing Covid-19. The delays we have seen in providing results and following-up of close contacts are totally unacceptable and contribute to the spread of the disease.

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“Unless we get this right and we have transparent answers from the HSE then we risk exposing our people to a second wave of Covid-19 infection,” Naughten said.

When asked for comment on re-testing and the most up-to-date figures on contact tracing, a spokesperson for the HSE said: “The HSE cannot comment on individual cases or activations to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the businesses and the people who work in these facilities.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the department “welcomes Deputy Naughten’s continued engagement on this matter”.

“The department has sought further clarification from the HSE National Outbreak Team on the current status of contract tracing in all affected facilities,” they added.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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