In the Field
Vigilant Eyes on COVID-19
Animal science alum Chris Salm has co-founded a testing service for organizations looking to continue safe operations during the coronavirus pandemic
In late March 2020, COVID-19 struck Wisconsin’s Brown County. The virus hit workers in the area’s meat industry especially hard. But Salm Partners, a Denmark, Wisconsin-based meat-packing company that is focused on pre-cooked, ready-to-eat sausage and hot dog products, managed to avoid an outbreak among its team members.
Unfortunately, some news coverage of the county’s outbreak lumped in Salm Partners with affected meat industry businesses. It left the company’s leadership scrambling for a way to counteract negative media attention and reassure the public. For Eric Salm, a longtime associate of the company with a vested familial interest in its success, the solution was simple: regular testing of the company’s entire workforce.
Initially, Salm’s suggestion was met with skepticism — the logistics seemed too overwhelming to some. Nevertheless, Salm forged ahead. Four days later, he oversaw the construction of a mobile sampling trailer. About two weeks after that, Salm Partners began testing all of its team members.
That was the beginning of CoVigilance, with Eric Salm as its new CEO.
Eric had a little help from his father, Chris Salm BS’75, who happens to be one of the founders of Salm Partners. Thanks to Chris’s skills in forming partnerships as president of CoVigilance, the new company quickly gained traction.
“I’m just a facilitator of connections,” says Chris. “Because people know Salm Partners and know our story, we’ve had calls from a lot of companies.” CoVigilance has completed multiple rounds of testing for Salm Partners’ entire 600-person workforce and now administers testing for half a dozen other companies, each with multiple testing locations. They also work with eight Wisconsin college campuses and, beginning in the spring 2021 semester, helped facilitate a new testing approach at UW–Madison.
“It’s grown rapidly,” says CoVigilance COO Jeff Grider, adding that their reach extends beyond Wisconsin to Virginia, Minnesota, Iowa, Oklahoma, and California.
One of the objectives of CoVigilance is to make people feel as safe as possible at work. And after the third round of testing directed by CoVigilance, that feeling returned to Salm Partners, says Chris Salm. No one was calling in to say that they felt unsafe at work. “They look forward to it, they look forward to getting the results,” he says, “and to knowing that they are safer at work than they might be in the community.”
That’s the end goal for every organization that partners with CoVigilance, says Grider — finding a way to support people who want to continue to work or attend class safely through the pandemic.
And the company is eyeing expansion in the future, if it’s needed. Says Chris Salm, “Our goal is to serve the world.”