Three new coronavirus cases reported at Central Illinois meat processing plant

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Rantoul Foods in Rantoul, IL on Sunday, May 17, 2020. photo by Darrell Hoemann/The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Health officials reported three new Covid-19 cases among workers at the meat processing plant Rantoul Foods Wednesday. 

This brings the total number of plant workers who have contracted the virus to 91.  The plant employs more than 600 workers – either directly or through a temp agency. 

These cases are among eight new ones reported across Champaign County. 

Champaign-Urbana Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde said that an outbreak is not considered officially over until “28 days from the last date of onset of the last case.”

Until Wednesday, the last case at the plant was reported on May 19, Pryde said. 

Rantoul Foods is one of Central Illinois’ largest meat processing plants. 

Until the outbreak began in late April, workers processed 35 million pounds of meat a month. Plant officials said last month that they reduced production by half, but have since resumed hiring. 

In a statement issued May 21, the company said “Obviously, Rantoul Foods takes the health and safety of their employees seriously and also understands their responsibility to maintaining the food supply chain, so they have increased production in small increments as they have evaluated how to reincorporate employees who are returning from quarantine.” 

Rantoul Foods reported its first Covid-19 case April 25. 

Health inspectors made an on-site visit April 27 and 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 has since come under compliance. Health inspectors have made six visits in addition to its first visit on April 27. They last visited the plant on May 20.

Aside from minor issues, the plant has remained in compliance, health officials said.   

In its May 21 statement, the company said it was working with several schools from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to conduct an environmental survey of the plant. 

“The survey will evaluate ventilation in work areas to help minimize workers’ potential airborne exposure and will give insight into what, if any, additional precautions will need to be implemented to ensure employee safety,” the statement read. 

A company spokeswoman said earlier that the company
“expects to receive feedback and suggestions over a period of time,” from the study. 

As of June 3, there have been at least 23,000 reported positive cases tied to meatpacking facilities in at least 216 plants in 33 states, and at least 74 reported worker deaths at 35 plants in 21 states, according to tracking by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

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