Covid-19 cases rise at Central Illinois meat packing plant

The number of Covid-19 cases at one of Central Illinois’ largest meat processing plants now stands at 52,  health officials and plant management said Thursday. 

The outbreak at Rantoul Foods makes up 22% of the total 236 cases in Champaign County to date.

As of May 7, there have been at least 10,800 reported positive cases tied to meatpacking facilities in at least 170 plants in 29 states, and at least 49 reported worker deaths at 27 plants in 18 states, according to an analysis of the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

Rantoul Foods, located 20 minutes north of Champaign, had its first case April 25. By May 4, there were 20 confirmed cases. 

The latest numbers do not take into account community spread, said Julie Pryde, administrator of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. 

“That’s still being investigated,” she said during a news briefing Thursday. 

Health officials estimate only 200 of the plant’s employees have been tested so far. 

A mass testing event is scheduled for Friday. 

During an interview this week, plant officials said there were 650 workers at the plant – including both temporary workers and employees. 

“We will finish testing all employees tomorrow,” said Jerry Jacobsen, the company’s director of human resources, safety and business administration.

During an April 27 visit, health officials found the plant to be 90% out of compliance with infection control practices, but have now reported it is in compliance.  

Village of Rantoul Mayor Charles Smith said during Thursday’s news briefing that village officials are strategizing a plan. 

“It’s a little bit overwhelming,” Smith said. “We’re just now getting organized and able to face this issue.” 

He said many workers at the plant speak different dialects. 

Pryde said the health district has had to hire three different translators to help workers at the plant, including Spanish, Lingala (French Congolese dialect) and Q’anjob’al (Guatemala).

“So it’s a lot bigger, a lot more complex because of the population we have in those facilities,” Smith said.

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