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County Health Officials Worry Meatpacking Plants Are Reopening Too Soon

Preston Keres
U.S. Department of Agriculture


Meatpacking plants are starting to reopen after President Trumpsignedan 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.

TheSmithfieldmeatpacking 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.

Itreopenedafter 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 theWarren County Health Departmentwhere 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 toguidancefrom 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

Copyright 2021 Harvest Public Media. To see more, visit .

Dana Cronin is a reporter based in Urbana, Illinois. She covers food and agriculture issues in Illinois for Harvest. Dana started reporting in southern Colorado at member station 91.5 KRCC, where she spent three years writing about everything from agriculture to Colorado’s highest mountain peaks. From there she went to work at her hometown station, KQED, in San Francisco. While there she covered the 2017 North Bay Fires. She spent the last two years at NPR’s headquarters in Washington D.C., producing for shows including Weekend Edition and All Things Considered.