Significant Covid-19 outbreak confirmed at Offaly workplace
A significant outbreak of Covid-19 cases has been confirmed at the Nelipak Healthcare Packaging plant in Clara.
It's understood up to 20 members of staff at the plant have tested positive in the last two weeks, with other cases confirmed among close contacts of workers.
This news comes as Offaly has the highest 14-day incidence rate of the virus in the country with cases clustered in the Tullamore Municipal District, which takes in the town of Clara, according to Department of Health data.
341 cases have been confirmed across the county in the last two weeks with Offaly's 14-day incidence rate standing at 437.4 per 100,00. The national average is now down at 240 per 100,000. The rate in the Tullamore Municipal District, including Clara, as of last week, was 538.4 per 100,000, one of the highest of any local area in the country.
Staff at Nelipak in Clara have raised concerns to the Offaly Express about the handling of the outbreak after a delay in closing the plant for testing following a number of confirmed cases in the early part of the week commencing February 8.
It's understood a number of staff members walked out of the workplace on Wednesday, February 10, following the confirmation of positive cases before widescale testing took place among the staff. The plant closed between February 11 and February 15 to facilitate the process. Staff also raised concerns over the Covid-19 safety measures in place prior to this outbreak.
With as many as 20 members of staff testing positive, a number of their close contacts have subsequently tested positive with a small number of those people requiring hospitalisation.
Laois-Offaly TD and Clara native Barry Cowen told the Offaly Express that he was aware and "naturally worried" by the cases at Nelipak and that he had been in contact with the company directly.
"I was aware that despite their own protocols and mechanisms within the workplace, they did have an outbreak. They worked then immediately and closely with the HSE who were of great help and assistance to ensure the proper contact tracing measures were adhered to. They [Nelipak] are most grateful for the help they received from the HSE," Deputy Cowen said.
The former Minister said the company had eight cases among a workforce of nearly 200 since last February prior to this current outbreak. He said this was a sign measures in place had been stemming the spread of the virus and pointed to the new UK strain as a major factor now in situations like this.
"I'm satisfied having spoken with them [Nelipak], that despite how difficult it is, how challenging it is and how worrying it is, every effort has been made to contain this. I was glad to hear that they [Nelipak] worked hand and glove with the HSE and continue to do so."
He said any ongoing testing regime at the plant would be a matter for the company and the HSE and that he would defer to the health expertise on that aspect.
"The HSE have been successful in other instances in containing and helping companies through these situations," he said.
Responding to a request from the Offaly Express, a spokesperson for Nelipak in Clara, said: "On February 9, Nelipak received notification that several employees from one shift had tested positive for Covid-19.
"Following its Covid-19 action plan, management contacted the Regional HSE (Health Services Executive) and Public Health Organisation to ensure full contact tracing was carried out around those affected employees.
"Based on the level of community transmission in the locality and as an employer with a duty of care to our employees, we decided to extend testing to all employees as a precautionary measure," the spokesperson continued.
"While those tests were ongoing, the company took the decision to close the facility from the evening of Thursday, February 11 reopening on Monday, February 15 to give our employees time to get their test results before returning to work.
"Following the company’s own Nelipak Covid-19 protocols and recommended best practice from the HSE, a deep clean of all affected areas of the plant was carried out before operations resumed.
"Acting in accordance with HSE guidelines affected individuals are currently self-isolating. We will continue to work with the HSE in relation to their safe return to work.
"The Health and Safety of our employees, customers, suppliers, business partners, and the patients who benefit from our products is our top priority. We would particularly like to acknowledge the excellent support from the HSE and the Public Health Services as we continue to prioritise the wellbeing and safety of our employees," Nelipak concluded.