Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) testing for essential food production workers: evolving thinking, pilot testing, and lessons learned

S. C. Lucan, S. K. Goodwin, M. Lozano, S. Pak, M. Freitas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

An essential part of U.S. coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) critical infrastructure is the country's food-production workforce. Keeping food-production workers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic has meant added workplace protections. Protection guidance came early from the Federal Government. Absent from such guidance were strategies to screen for the causative virus. Without viral screening, some food companies had outbreaks; some facilities had to close. Companies interested in viral screening had to devise their own strategies. One company devised a strategy having three main goals: (1) detecting asymptomatic infections, before opportunity for spread; (2) identifying workplace clusters, to indicate potential protection breakdowns; and (3) comparing company results to community infection rates. The company decided on pilot screenings at two U.S. production plants. Screenings involved mandatory viral testing (through reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) and optional antibody testing (both immunoglobulins G and M). Pilot screenings showed benefits along with limitations: (1) detecting asymptomatic infections, but at questionably relevant time points; (2) identifying infection clusters, but with uncertain sites of transmission; (3) showing relatively low rates of infection, but absent details for meaningful community comparisons. Establishing a worker screening process was an enormous undertaking. Company employees had to stretch job roles and were distracted form usual responsibilities. Whether other companies would find sufficient benefits to justify similar screening is unclear. Moving forward, new Federal leadership could provide greater support for, and assistance with, worker screenings. In addition, new technologies could make future screenings more feasible and valuable. The worker screening experience from this pandemic offers learnings the next.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-62
Number of pages7
JournalPublic Health
Volume197
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2021

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Critical infrastructure
  • Food security
  • Occupational health
  • Public health
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Testing
  • Workers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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