CDC’s Elkhart Report Urges More Evaluation

A picture of two medical masks

The Center for Disease Controls (CDC) released a report on a summer COVID-19 outbreak in Elkhart County, and further evaluating RV manufacturers was among the agency’s recommendations.

The report’s release comes as the county is experiencing another surge in cases. The report covers the time period from July 6 to Aug. 5 after cases surged beginning in mid-June.

In a release announcing the report, the Elkhart County Health Department said it will be considering all recommendations provided.

“The release of this report comes at a time when we’re experiencing another spike in cases,” stated Dr. Lydia Mertz, Elkhart County Health Officer. “But we can get this under control. Folks need to go back to wearing a mask in public, social distancing, staying home if they are sick, and washing their hands.”

The CDC found that there was widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in Elkhart County, suggesting that occupational, household and community interactions likely were contributing to propagating the virus.

To accomplish rapid control of the spread of COVID-19 the CDC team provided four specific recommendations:

  1. Enhance data collection, analysis, and reporting for COVID-19
  2. Tailor COVID-19 communication and messages for Hispanic or Latino and Amish people
  3. Continue assessment of RV manufacturing plants
  4. Enhance case investigation and contact tracing

In its recommendation of assessing RV plants, the report said officials should:

  • Consider reaching out to other employees to gain a broader perspective of their experiences in the workplace.
  • Consider requesting technical assistance from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to strengthen COVID-19 mitigation strategies in manufacturing facilities.
  • Consider direct training with employees on how to maintain social distance while conducting their specific job duties.
  • Establish environmental controls to reduce heat in the workplace.

CDC’s team conducted interviews with RV plant managers and workers among its work, saying that after initial meetings, experts expressed a need to better understand preventive behaviors within the RV manufacturing plants. The CDC team did not conduct site visits, however, citing time constraints.

“A meeting with RV CEOs and managers from different local RV plants took place prior to conducting the interviews,” the report stated. “They provided an overview of what the RV manufacturing companies have done during the pandemic to prevent and control spread of COVID-19 among employers and employees. RV CEOs came together to develop the ‘Return to Work Playbook.’ During the shutdown, RV managers ensured disinfection of all areas in the plants and PPE procurement in preparation of reopening. Currently, they do daily self-reported health screenings and temperature checks. “

The report said contacting RV employees was challenging because several were concerned the interviews would not be anonymous and would be traced back to them, fearing reprisals.

In a summary of the interviews with managers, the CDC said senior executives provided details on training, education and communications.

“Plan administrators made adjustments to ensure ease and accessibility for workers to uphold health and safety practices at work,” the report stated. “Managers emphasized guaranteed paid sick leave and encouraged those who are feeling sick to stay home without income loss. Health and safety information was disseminated widely in Spanish and English in various forms including in socially distanced in-person meetings, videos, strategically placed signs, SharePoint sites, emails and text messages. Managers reported confirmed cases of COVID-19 among workers and expressed that implementing policies and ensuring adherence is challenging because of the rapidly changing and at times inconsistent information. Culture and demographics influence individual prevention behaviors.”

In interviews with employees, the CDC said there were mixed feelings about preventative measures.

“Some reported that employees follow the prevention measures suggested, but others reported that they are not following them at their workplace,” the report stated. “Most of the employees reported that plant management made masks, hand sanitizer and hand washing stations accessible to them. Several employees reported that it is easy to wash hands, but difficult to consistently and appropriately wear masks due to high temperatures in the workplace. Additionally, employees reported that plant management does not mandate mask use, except in times when employees cannot keep 6 feet away from others.”

All employees interviewed considered themselves at high risk of getting infected on the job, the report stated.

“Most of the RV workers interviewed expressed that their work responsibilities put them at higher risk of getting infected with COVID-19,” the report stated. “This was particularly true during the final RV assembly process, where several employees work together inside the RV in close proximity.”

The report summarized the interviews by saying it might be necessary to continue outreach to employees to gain a “broader perspective” on their experiences.

“Walk-through of the manufacturing facilities was beyond the scope of this mission’s objectives. However, direct observation of facilities is an important step in assessing infection and control measures in manufacturing facilities,” the report stated. “If realistic and achievable, plant managers should consider direct training with employees on how to maintain social distance while conducting their specific job duties.”


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