Mass testing at meat plant finds 27 more coronavirus cases

You are currently viewing Mass testing at meat plant finds 27 more coronavirus casesPam Dempsey, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting
Medical staff prepare to test workers for Covid-19 at Rantoul Foods on Friday, May 8, 2020, as part of a two-day mass testing event. The meat processing plant had 55 confirmed cases as of Friday.

This story has been updated to reflect that public health officials confirmed 82 cases of Covid-19 among Rantoul Foods employees Monday afternoon and not 83 cases as we initially reported on Sunday.

Rantoul Foods, one of Central Illinois’ largest meat processing plants, will partially shut down Monday to undergo additional sanitization following a mass testing event at the plant Friday and Saturday that found 27 more cases of Covid-19 among employees, according to a company release. 

This pushes the total number of employees who have become sick to 82, public health officials confirmed Monday afternoon.

As of Friday, Champaign-Urbana Public Health District officials confirmed 55 cases among plant employees and on Saturday, public health officials confirmed an additional case – although it’s unclear if this one case is incorporated into Monday’s total.

Health officials confirmed the additional numbers released by the company Monday morning. In earlier interviews, they said not all employees lived in Rantoul.

The meat processing plant worked with OSF HealthCare Heart of Mary Medical Center and SafeWorks Illinois, an occupational health services organization, to conduct ‘hundreds of tests’ as part of the on-site testing strategy, according to an earlier press release.  A release said the plant also partially shut down on Friday for additional sanitization. 

Thus far, 227 employees were tested over the two-day period, according to Sunday’s release. 

Public health officials said on Monday there are 225 employees who have not yet been tested, based on information given to them from plant leadership.

“Efforts are being made to get them tested,” said public health administrator Julie Pryde.

In an interview Friday, Dr. David Fletcher, medical director of Illinois SafeWorks, noted that 200 employees were tested during the first day. 

Previously, employees were encouraged to get a test off-site; although it was not mandatory.    

Jerry Jacobsen said in an interview last week that the plant had 650 workers.

Rantoul Foods, OSF and SafeWorks Illinois’ press release Friday noted that “the drive-thru testing is conducted by OSF HealthCare Mission Partners (employees) outfitted in proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Spanish speaking staff members are on site to assist this special at-need, at risk population.”

Earlier this week, public health administrator Julie 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).

The first employee case was reported April 25, with health inspectors making an on-site visit April 27. There, health officials found the plant to be more than 90% out of compliance with infection control practices. But the plant had been under scrutiny by health officials since March.

The plant is complying with health regulations now,  Pryde said earlier. She also said that health officials would be making additional visits to the plant. 

As of May 10, there have been at least 12,500 reported positive cases tied to meatpacking facilities in at least 174 plants in 30 states, and at least 51 reported worker deaths at 27 plants in 18 states, according to reporting by The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.   

Leave a Reply