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Due To Outbreak, All Rantoul Foods Employees To Be Tested For COVID-19

RANTOUL – The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District is responding to the recent outbreak at Rantoul Foods, a meat processing plant located in Rantoul. 

Administrator Julie Pryde says OSF Healthcare is leading the effort to test the remaining 500 employees who have not yet been tested.

Of the roughly 200 who have already been tested, Pryde says 52 cases have been confirmed as of May 7.

For those cases, CU Public Health is following up with contact tracing—notifying people who’ve been in close contact with confirmed cases and instructing them to isolate or quarantine and monitor their symptoms. 

Pryde says some of the confirmed cases linked to Rantoul Foods involve people living in close quarters with many other people, with no way to social distance. 

“Frankly, what we’re running into… is by the time we have found out about cases, there’s an entire household unit that has been infected,” Pryde says. “If you have overcrowded housing, that’s almost a given.”

For people who need to isolate or quarantine but cannot practice social distancing in their current residence, Pryde says CU Public Health provides people with a hotel for the duration of their quarantine period.

Since many employees live outside of Rantoul—and COVID-19 cases are attributed to the counties where people live—Pryde says the COVID-19 cases linked to Rantoul Foods are creating other outbreaks in Champaign, Urbana and other cities outside of Champaign County.

Pryde says Rantoul Foods was closed down for a short time after the cases were first identified and was allowed to re-open after CU Public Health ensured proper infection control protocols were implemented. 

The plant had been 90% out of compliance with infection control protocols leading up to the outbreak, according to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

Infection control measures include wearing masks whenever a distance of six feet cannot be maintained between workers, staggering shifts to reduce the number of people in the facility at any given time, reducing production line staffing as much as possible, and clearly marking six-foot distances in areas where employees congregate, says Sarah Michaels, a CU Public Health employee who conducts facility inspections. 

“Facilities should be providing employees with necessary personal protective equipment,” Michaels says, and providing training in how to wear masks and practice good hygiene.

Pryde and Michaels made their comments at a May 7 online news briefing focused on topics related to Champaign County’s response to COVID-19, in response to questions from Illinois Newsroom and other media outlets. 

If you have a question you would like to ask local officials regarding COVID-19, submit it here.

Follow Christine on Twitter: @CTHerman

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Christine Herman

Christine Herman is a Ph.D. chemist turned audio journalist who covers health for the Illinois Newsroom. Her reporting for Illinois Public Media/WILL has received awards from the Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association, the Public Media Journalists Association and has reached both regional and national audiences through WILL's health reporting partnership with Side Effects Public Media, NPR and Kaiser Health News. Christine started at WILL in 2015.

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