Testing local poultry plant workers for COVID-19 does not sit well with Sussex County Councilman Sam Wilson.
Wilson, a Georgetown-area farmer, called the state's plan a “dumb idea” that could force poultry plants – vital to the county's economy – to close.
During council's April 28 teleconference meeting, Wilson reacted to an update on efforts by the state from County Administrator Todd Lawson, who said the number of positive cases in the county will rise as more people are tested.
But Lawson also said he was confident Gov. John Carney and Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse will do everything in their power to keep poultry plants open. “This is a day-to-day situation that continues to evolve, and I don't think we have seen the end at all,” he said.
“Where did the governor get the bright idea to test the poultry workers?” Wilson asked. “They're losing millions of dollars because of this dumb idea.”
He said additional testing and more positive cases might force more workers to stay home and lead poultry plants to shut down.
Poultry companies are in the process or already have destroyed millions of chickens because plants don't have enough workers to cover all shifts, Wilson said.
Lawson said county officials are working closely with state officials to ensure that poultry plant workers are tested and receive necessary medical care, and even isolation at local hotels if needed.
State officials have highlighted county poultry processing plants, which employ thousands, as potential hot spots for the virus. Last week, Carney said there has been a significant spread of the virus in the Georgetown, Millsboro and Milford areas where poultry plants are located.
Then on April 28, Carney designated Sussex County as a hot spot for COVID-19. Health officials said 35 percent of the 750 people tested in the county last week were positive for the virus. There are now more positive cases in Sussex County than in New Castle County, although New Castle has a higher population.
In light of rising COVID-19 cases in Sussex County, Carney has stepped up efforts to increase testing and provide more educational outreach. Testing by Beebe Healthcare, Bayhealth and Nanticoke Health Services has been scheduled in Georgetown, Milford and Seaford.
This week, Beebe Healthcare Group opened a COVID-Positive Care Center at its Georgetown facility off Route 404, across from Delaware Technical Community College.
Council president responds to comments
Following the meeting, Council President Mike Vincent responded to Wilson's comments.
“Councilman Wilson was expressing one opinion – his – and as a citizen and an elected representative he has every right to do so,” Vincent said.
“While we respect that right, the county’s position is one of steadfast support for the governor, state health officials, healthcare providers and poultry processors in their efforts to fully assess and try to contain the hot spot situation in Sussex County. Only through increased testing, direct outreach into vulnerable populations, and continued social distancing practices will we all be able to repel this enemy, rebuild our economy and restore our community.”