Testing accelerated at Rantoul meat processing plant hit by coronovirus outbreak

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Pam 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.

Rantoul Foods, one of Central Illinois’ largest meat processing plants, accelerated its mass testing Friday as the number of confirmed cases at the plant rose to 55.


The company, located in Rantoul, intends to conduct “hundreds of tests” by Saturday, May 9, according to a press release issued Friday by the company and its partners. There are 650 workers at the plant.

In addition to medical staff at OSF HealthCare Heart of Mary Medical Center, plant officials are also working with SafeWorks Illinois, an occupational health services organization.

The plant’s outbreak makes up to a fifth of the 254 confirmed cases in Champaign County. In Rantoul, there are 67 confirmed cases total. 

There were 200 workers tested on Friday, said Dr. David Fletcher, medical director of  SafeWorks said in a phone interview Friday.  A second day of testing will continue Saturday, he said. 

About 400 of the 650 workers have been tested as of Friday, Fletcher said.

“It is essential that we are able to assist in getting a handle on who is affected and how best to provide them care as well as help to limit the transmission of this infection to others,” said Dr. Jared Rogers, president, OSF HealthCare Heart of Mary Medical Center, in a press release Friday. 

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.”

Champaign County Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde said inspectors will make additional visits to the plant. 

“We will continue throughout the pandemic to make sure they are keeping infection control in place,” Pryde said. 

Earlier this week, she 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. 

As of May 8, there have been at least 11,500 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 reporting by The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.   

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