JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Some of Mississippi’s more rural counties are seeing more coronavirus cases than areas six and seven times their size, with Scott County leading the state as the place with the highest rate of positive COVID-19 cases per capita.
For the last two weeks, concerned Mississippians have been reaching out to 3 On Your Side, claiming coronavirus is spreading unchecked at poultry processing plants in Scott and Leake counties, contributing to those high numbers.
Gov. Tate Reeves said he’s been assured by State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs that those claims aren’t true.
“They did not have a confirmed case transmitted within one of those plants," Reeves said.
Reeves said in a White House conference call earlier this week, Dr. Deborah Birx told him that, at many food processing plants across the U.S., research has shown that outbreaks are happening not in those facilities, but possibly among plant employees while they’re not at work.
“The transmission generally happens in a communal living space where a lot of the workers live, in very close quarters, or sometimes in the transportation vehicles where they’re in very tight quarters moving from where they live to the actual plants themselves," Reeves said.
Scott and Leake counties rank highest in positive cases per 10,000 residents.
In fact, one out of every 83 Scott County residents has tested positive for the virus since the county got its first case on March 22.
3 On Your Side reached out to officials with Koch Foods in Morton and Tyson Foods in Forest to see how many employees this has affected.
Only Tyson responded.
Spokesperson Morgan Watchous said they do have confirmed cases at some of their U.S. locations, but would not disclose the number of cases associated with a plant or even which plants were impacted.
Watchous did say, however, that the company is adjusting how it operates to reduce worker interaction and sanitizing several parts of its facilities daily.
Dobbs said the state health department will be changing its strategy for those two counties to concentrate on localized outbreaks to find out where these cases keep spreading.
“I think that’s driving part of the increase, localized outbreaks or localized transmission. Additional public health activities will need to happen in these areas," Dobbs said.