Temporary worker at Rantoul meat processing plant tests positive for Covid-19

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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.

After 26 days of no new reported cases, a Rantoul Foods worker has tested positive for the novel coronavirus. 

The temporary worker is in their 60s and lives in Vermilion County, according to health officials. 

This latest case was confirmed on June 29 and the last case was confirmed on June 3, according to health officials. 

Champaign Health Administrator Julie Pryde previously said an outbreak was considered over when there are no new reported cases for 28 days. 

“In addition to the employee being required to remain away from work pending test results, immediate action was taken to evaluate all direct contacts that individual would have had in the workplace and to inform those employees of any possible exposure,” company officials said in a statement. 

In the company statement on July 2, Rantoul Foods said their medical director believes the worker contracted the virus via ‘community transmission’ and not from the plant.  

“The University of Illinois has conducted weekly environmental sampling throughout the facility. Every sample has been negative for SARS-CoV2. Pre-employment COVID screening has been ongoing since late May, and the preventative measures implemented in April remain in place,” according to the company statement. 

Rantoul Foods is one of Central Illinois’ largest meat processing plants. Until an outbreak of the virus began in late April, workers processed 35 million pounds of meat a month. Since the first reported case at the plant on April 25, officials said they cut production by 50 percent and stopped hiring. 

 In late May, company officials said they were incrementally increasing production and had resumed hiring. 

As of early June, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District confirmed 91 cases of Covid-19 among workers at the plant. 

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.

Health inspectors visited the plant multiple times in April and May and has since reported the plant to be in compliance. 

“This continues to be a complex and evolving issue. Rantoul Foods’ Medical Director, Dr. David Fletcher, a board-certified Public Health specialist, is monitoring the data closely and working with management to update safety protocols as new information becomes available,” the company statement read. 

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