RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Thirteen food processing plants in North Carolina have reported COVID-19 outbreaks, state health officials say.
According to DHHS there are 479 confirmed cases between outbreaks at 13 of the state’s 24 facilities.
Officials did not list all thirteen facilities, but recently five workers at the Smithfield Packing Company plant in Clinton tested positive for the virus.
Last week, North Carolina’s Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said that employees of the processing plants are essential and keeping the plants up and running is critical to the food supply chain.
“They had us believing we were, as they call it, essential workers, heroes. But they fail to realize one thing. I go to work, I bring whatever germs that’s at that job to my house. I’m a living testimony that it happens because my fiance is sick,” said an employee of Pilgrim’s Pride in Sanford.
The woman asked she remain anonymous for fear of losing her job. She’s worked at the facility for two years as a bulk packer.
She says plastic bags are being used to partition work spaces on the production line, but workers are still rotating stations without having to clean them.
“Where I’m working, I had nothing blocking me from my coworker. I worked on the table. They didn’t have anything separating us,” she said.
She says earlier this week she and her fiance tested positive for COVID19, which she believes she contracted from someone at her job.
Her fiance, who has asthma, is now in the hospital battling the virus.
“Instead of me trying to focus on wedding plans, I’m stressing if I have to plan a funeral,” she said.
Workers at processing plants around the state have raised concerns not enough is being done to protect them.
NC Director of Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry said Tuesday that a strike team of epidemiologists is performing mitigation measures at plants around the state.
In a statement Cameron Bruett, Head of Corporate Affairs for JBS USA & Pilgrim’s Pride confirmed employees have tested positive for COVID19.
“We will endeavor to keep our facilities open to help feed the nation, but we will not operate a facility if we do not believe it is safe. The health and safety of our team members remains our number one priority,” Bruett said in a statement.
Bruett went on to say Pilgrim’s Pride has implemented a wide of range of safety measures such as temperature checking employees before they enter a facility.
Employees have been provided with face masks, and attendance policies have been relaxed so they don’t come to work sick according to Bruett.
He says they’ve increased disinfection measures, as well as physical distancing measures in cafeterias, break, and locker rooms.