Bladen County Health Department confirmed some employees who work at Smithfield Foods at the Tar Heel, NC facility tested positive for COVID-19 (coronavirus). Those employees are in isolation and others who may have been exposed to the sick are also in isolation according to local health officials.
The employees who are healthy and well continue to show up for work and practice safety precautions. The workers confirmed they may be seen getting temperatures checked before going into the facility, dividers have been installed, masks and gloves are also worn.
Tyson Foods recently warned, “millions of pounds of meat” shortage is coming as the coronavirus pandemic continues to shut down food processing plants. “The food supply chain is breaking,” says board chairman John Tyson.
The work that goes into food processing is a demanding job and may be difficult at times to practice the six-foot social distancing guidelines, according to Smithfield Foods officials. Smithfield Foods, who owns the local food processing facility announced this weekend the temporary closure of their plant in Monmouth, IL. However, the Tar Heel facility is still in operation. Smithfield officials would not give an exact number of confirmed COVID-19 cases at the local facility. However, since Smithfield confirmed reports of employees testing positive for COVID-19 on April 18th, Bladen County Health Department has reported eight (8) additional positive cases in the area. The patients’ employment, demographics, and other information have not been released to the public by the health department due to their privacy, according to officials.
Local health officials say everyone must practice the CDC guidelines because everyone is at risk. Local Smithfield employees say they understand the safety measures and are taking responsibility for their health and the health of others. Younger employees are continuing to take shifts for older employees. Smithfield is sending employees 60 years and over home for two weeks with pay, according to the employees. A couple of employees admitted they are committed to doing everything necessary to protect their team members from COVID-19.
The company’s officials stated, “The company will continue to arm its team members with personal protective equipment like masks, which are stocked and in use at every single one of its facilities around the country.”
They added, “The company has been explicitly instructing employees not to report to work if they are sick and that they will be paid. It is also urging its team members to take steps to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 outside the workplace.
Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture for the United States Department of Agriculture thanked the food supply workers. He said, “You know, we’re spoiled in America. You’ve provided such abundant, healthy, wholesome, affordable, available food that we take you for granted. And for all you people from the people who are stocking those shelves, from the people who are driving the trucks to get this food to us, the people who are processing the food and the people who grow the food and all the vendors that supplied our farmers to help them grow this food whether it’s fertilizer or feed or seed or any other input. Thank you so much for what you’re doing.”
He added, “And I know these are uncertain times, but I just want to tell you from my heart, as an American citizen, I am so grateful for what you’re doing. And I want to thank you for doing that. I know there’s been a lot of confusion about teleworking and all that kind of stuff. You all have jobs that can’t telework, and we know that. We’ve got our Food Safety Inspection workers on the front line, day in and day out to make sure our food is safe, just like we always have. But you’re the real heroes in this effort.”
Purdue mentioned past disasters affecting America. He stated, “In World War II we actually had agricultural deferments because the food supply chain was so important. And that’s essentially what you all are doing. From the person that makes the equipment, that supplies the farmers, to the seed, the fertilizer, the farmers that go day in and day out to produce this food and all through the processing, and the packaging, and the logistics, and the stocking of the shelves, to greeting and checking out people – you are vital to our economy and you are vital to our needs of America having a strong food supply.”
In closing Purdue stated, “You’ve probably heard me say before, our motto at USDA is, “Do Right and Feed Everyone.” We can’t do that alone at USDA, but you are doing it. And I want to just thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you are doing day in and day out. Stay at the job. You know that America depends on you if we are going to have the food we need to feed our families, you are the ones that can make that happen. Thank you. God Bless you. Stay safe. And God bless America.”