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Southwest KS meatpacking plants connected to COVID-19 clusters

(KWCH)
Published: Apr. 19, 2020 at 9:02 PM CDT
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The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is reporting Ford County is now fifth in the state for the highest number of positive COVID-19 cases.

On Sunday, the county is sitting at 127 cases. Many people are concerned about such a high concentration of the virus in a rural area and how the meatpacking plants may be factored into the spread.

Dodge City Commissioner Brian Delzeit said, “We’re obviously seeing a large amount of cases versus other communities out here our size like Garden and Liberal but we’re also doing a lot more testing as well.”

Delzeit said the county is in control of all coronavirus investigations.

“The community gets the same thing that the city gets from the county at the same time," said Delzeit. "Until we’re better informed out here as to where those cases are coming from, I don’t know where to start at, I don’t know where to direct people at. We aren’t being given that information.”

For now, its unclear exactly how many employees at the two plants in Ford County might be infected.

Martin Rosas, president of UFCW Local 2 said, “Cargill put into place all these programs. And National Beef, they’ve been delaying that one week, two weeks, three weeks and that’s a lot of time. Before you know it, you already have all that spread out inside the community.”

UFCW Local 2 is the union that represents about 9,000 meat packaging workers in Kansas including the two in Dodge City. Rosas said both Cargill and National Beef plants in Ford County have multiple confirmed COVID cases.

“I understand why those people are afraid, I’m afraid too to go into those plants,” said Rosas. But he doesn't think closing the plants is the answer.

"If they were to close the plant, it doesn’t serve any purpose because the people are going to go about their lives and the stores and the street gathering," said Rosas. "You go to any store in that city, they’re packed.”

Both plants have added new safety measures and ramped up cleaning. Rosas hopes plant workers will follow social distancing to lessen the spread.