May 13, 2020 5:30 PM

Kansas sausage making plant shuts down amid COVID-19 cases

Posted May 13, 2020 5:30 PM
Johnsonville Plant in Holton Google image
Johnsonville Plant in Holton Google image

TOPEKA Kan. (AP) — A Kansas plant that makes sausage has shut down after five employees tested positive for the coronavirus amid continued problems at meatpacking plants in the state and across the country.

The shutdown at the Johnsonville plant in Holton took effect Wednesday.

“It’s a tough decision to halt production, but we appreciate Johnsonville for doing this to help us stop the spread of COVID-19,” says Angie Reith, Jackson County Health Officer. “The Johnsonville team has implemented aggressive safety measures and did so early on to protect their workforce, and those efforts have helped immensely in identifying the virus in the facility as quickly as possible. We’ll continue our collaboration to minimize the spread of the virus.”

Johnsonville said all employees will continue to get paid, and downtime will be used to implement even more aggressive safety protocols before reopening. Some new safety protocols include placing additional barriers between workstations where social distancing is not possible.

Meanwhile, counties in southwest Kansas with plants continue to deal with outbreaks among employees. Ford, Seward and Finney counties together had more than 2,700 cases as of Monday, or 38% of the state’s total. They had the highest rates of cases per 1,000 residents in the state.

But some neighboring counties also are seeing higher-than-average rates of cases as well. Kearney County has 30 cases, for a rate of 7.61 for every 1,000 residents -- far above the state’s figure of 2.44.

Dr. Drew Miller, a family physician in Lakin, said the cases there are tied to the meatpacking industry.

“We’re seeing community spread, or household spread and community spread, from those that were initially affected in the meatpacking plants, and I guess that’s the part that concerns us more than the young, healthy workforce population,” Miller said in a Zoom interview. “They expose their parents or others living in their house that have other chronic illnesses to the virus.”

He expects to Kearny County to diverge with the state when it reaches the second phase of Kelly’s plan to reopen the economy on May 18.

“It is an eerie thought, but as everybody else talks about reopening, it still feels like we’re looking COVID-19 straight in the eyes,” he said

Johns Hopkins University has reported 184 deaths and 7,200 cases in Kansas, although the actual number is thought to be higher in part because of the initial limits in testing.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, or death.