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County Health Officials Worry Meatpacking Plants Are Reopening Too Soon

Meatpacking plants are starting to reopen after President Trump signed an executive order intended to prevent shortages.

Now, some county health officials are weighing in, and say they’re concerned plants in their areas weren’t closed long enough.

The Smithfield meatpacking plant in Monmouth, Illinois, for example, reported its first positive COVID-19 case in mid-April and shut down completely a couple of weeks later.

It reopened after being closed for less than a week. 

“It would have been ideal to have 14 days from that last day to kind of see who may have been exposed and who might develop symptoms,” says Jenna Link, an administrator for the Warren County Health Department where the Smithfield plant is based.

Due to the president’s executive order, they weren’t given that option, says Link. And without it, she says she’s worried that reopening the plant could lead to even more infections, especially stemming from those who are asymptomatic.

“It’s one thing that the cases that we know of that are confirmed, but there’s probably a lot out there that we don’t know about that aren’t isolated,” she says. “So that’s really the biggest concern is just the impact it could have on our community.”

According to a representative from Smithfield, the company is adhering to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in reopening the plant.

That includes providing employees with more personal protection equipment, installing plexiglass barriers throughout the plant where social distancing can’t be maintained, disinfecting more often and doing routine symptom screening of all employees.

Follow Dana on Twitter: @DanaHCronin

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Dana Cronin

Dana Cronin covers food and agriculture for Illinois Newsroom. Her work has reached both national and regional audiences through WILL's partnership with Harvest Public Media, an ag-focused Midwest reporting collaborative. Prior to Illinois Newsroom, she worked at NPR headquarters in Washington D.C. and for other member stations including KQED in San Francisco and 91.5 KRCC in Colorado Springs, CO. ➤ DCronin@illinois.edu@DanaHCronin

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