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More than 100 workers at a meatpacking plant in Oklahoma have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
David Eaheart, a spokesman for Seaboard Foods, which runs the plant, said in a statement on Monday that at least 116 employees at the pork processing plant in Guymon, which is located in Texas County, have tested positive. The plant employs some 2,700 people, he said.
“Our message to employees continues to be if you don't feel well please stay home, contact your health care provider, and get tested. We believe this is the best way to protect our workers and our community,” Eaheart said in a statement provided to Fox News.
“To that end, we continually reinforce the importance of self-isolation and testing through the Texas County Health Department (TCHD) or other local departments in the region, and we have actively encouraged our employees to get tested. As in other places that have embraced testing, we believe this will likely result in more positive tests, but we feel it is the best way to protect our workers and our community,” he added.
But several former and current plant employees who spoke to The Oklahoman on the condition of anonymity said conditions at the plant are “not conducive” for social distancing, and some sick employees still went to work for fear they could lose their job.
However, Eaheart said in the statement that the company has implemented a “temporary COVID-19 Leave Policy and Support Plan” to help employees who fall ill with the virus, including short-term disability pay for employees in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s high-risk category.
Investigators with the federal health agency will be on the ground looking into outbreaks in nearby Moore and Potter Counties.
The news comes after a CDC report on Friday said more than 4,900 workers at meat and poultry processing facilities have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including 20 who died. Not all states provided data.
The CDC researchers cited risks including difficulties with physical distancing and hygiene and crowded living and transportation conditions. They suggested enhanced disinfection and that workers get regular screening for the virus, more space from co-workers, and training materials in their native languages. Many meatpacking employees are immigrants; a CDC report on Smithfield Foods' outbreak in South Dakota found that employees there spoke about 40 different languages.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents most beef and pork workers and about one-third of poultry workers nationwide, has called for stricter measures than the CDC's, including mandating that workers be spaced 6 feet apart on production lines. It has appealed to governors for help enforcing worker safety rules. The union also wants to get rid of waivers that allow some plants to operate at faster speeds.
President Trump in April signed an executive order to ensure meat processing plants stay open during the coronavirus pandemic.
The order invoked the Defense Production Act, deeming the facilities a part of the country’s critical infrastructure as concerns mounted that the U.S. food supply chain will be disrupted because of the contagion.
Fox News's Russell Cosby and Andrew O'Reilly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.