We describe a multifactorial investigation of a SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in a large meat processing complex in Germany. Infection event timing, spatial, climate and ventilation conditions in the processing plant, sharing of living quarters and transport, and viral genome sequences were analyzed. Our results suggest that a single index case transmitted SARS-CoV-2 to co-workers over distances of more than 8 m, within a confined work area in which air is constantly recirculated and cooled. Viral genome sequencing shows that all cases share a set of mutations representing a novel sub-branch in the SARS-CoV-2 C20 clade. We identified the same set of mutations in samples collected in the time period between this initial infection cluster and a subsequent outbreak within the same factory, with the largest number of confirmed SARS-CoV-2 cases in a German meat processing facility reported so far. Our results indicate climate conditions, fresh air exchange rates, and airflow as factors that can promote efficient spread of SARS-CoV-2 via long distances and provide insights into possible requirements for pandemic mitigation strategies in industrial workplace settings.
Keywords: SARS-CoV-2 super spreading event; aerosol transmission; meat processing plant outbreak; viral genome sequencing.
© 2020 The Authors Published under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license.