Senator Lewis’ bill to give state more control over poultry plants during pandemic dies

September 1, 2020
Chicken Poultry Plant COVID-19

A legislative attempt, introduced by Senator Lynwood Lewis, to force Virginia to reveal more information about COVID-19 outbreaks in the state’s poultry plants and other workplaces, introduced after months of stonewalling from Virginia health officials and their insistence that the plants are entitled to privacy protections, stalled Wednesday with no prospect of being revived until 2021.

The measure would not only have required companies with 30 or more employees and five or more COVID-19 cases at a worksite to report those cases to the Department of Health, but compelled VDH to issue a weekly public report on that information.

The testing done at the Eastern Shore’s two poultry plants in May was done at the expense of Tyson and Perdue and therefore the results were proprietary information. However, the companies did release the results of those tests to the public through the Eastern Shore Health District.

The poultry plants are “a huge part of our economy,” Lewis said to Virginia Mercury. “And I respect that, and I am not trying to do anything that is anti-poultry industry at all. I’m talking about public knowledge and information in an extreme public health emergency.”

Nevertheless, Lewis on Tuesday told the Mercury he intends to let his legislation, the only bill put forward during the General Assembly’s special session on COVID-19 to address the dearth of public information on Virginia’s poultry plant outbreaks, die in committee. He pointed to several issues with the measure, including its inconsistency with emergency pandemic regulations for workplaces passed by Virginia’s Safety and Health Codes Board that order employers to report any positive cases to VDH within 24 hours.


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