CORONAVIRUS

52 at West Liberty Foods meat processing plant test positive for coronavirus

Meat processor sends 153 workers home

A worker walks out of the main entrance at West Liberty Foods in West Liberty on April 15. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
A worker walks out of the main entrance at West Liberty Foods in West Liberty on April 15. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

West Liberty Foods reported 52 of its 994 employees at its meat processing plant in West Liberty have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Friday.

That tally represents a jump from 39 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Thursday, as shared in a letter plant Manager Tom Alberti sent that day to employees and community members.

Several of those 39 workers have recovered while others are continuing to recover at home, without yet needing hospitalization, Alberti’s letter said.

So far, West Liberty Foods also has sent home 101 other employees identified to have worked in proximity to an employee who has tested positive, and determined to be at moderate or high risk of infection per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, said Dan Waters, the company’s vice president and general counsel, in an email Friday.

Employees diagnosed with COVID-19 or living with a family member who has the virus must remain at home for at least 14 days and receive a doctor’s note before they can return to work, Waters said.

Workers found to have been in proximity to co-workers with COVID-19 also must self-quarantine for 14 days, and can return only after they’ve asymptomatic and have passed a temperature check, he said.

West Liberty Foods intends to provide daily information regarding the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases at its West Liberty facility as well as at its other sites — in Mount Pleasant, Illinois and Utah — according to the letter.

West Liberty Foods temporarily closed its West Liberty plant, which processes turkey, beef, pork and chicken products, between April 9 and 14 after three employees tested positive for COVID-19, reported Food Business Network.

The facility also shut down production over the weekend of April 18-19 for deep cleaning, and will do the same Saturday and Sunday, as well as May 1-3, Waters said.

As of Thursday, there were 270 confirmed COVID-19 cases and seven related deaths in Muscatine County, where the West Liberty facility is located, according to the state’s coronavirus website.

Among the prevention and detection measures West Liberty Foods has instituted are displaying CDC guidelines in four languages — English, Spanish, Polish and French — screening each person entering its facilities with infrared thermometers or computerized thermal imaging; staggering start times and breaks; and reducing production line speeds.

All employees remaining at home — those with COVID-19, those who have a fever during a temperature check or those found to have been in proximity to an infected employee — will receive time off with pay, Waters said.

West Liberty Foods also has suspended its point system attendance policy, as “We do not want to create a financial incentive for any of the employees to come to work sick,” he said.

Separately, 58 employees at the company’s West Liberty facility have been temporarily furloughed as a result of COVID-19, Waters said.

West Liberty Foods will continue to provide health insurance to those employees, according to Alberti’s letter.

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.

Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.