Indiana Packers reopened Friday — two weeks after it closed the hog-processing plant to test all of its employees and contractors for the coronavirus.
Indiana Packers management chose to close the plant April 24 for cleaning and testing after 15 employees tested positive for COVID-19, the Delphi-based company announced two weeks ago.
On April 30 and May 1, an Indiana State Department of Health strike team tested the plants’ employees and contractors, Indiana Packers’ management announced last week.
Of those, 301 employees and contractors — 13 percent of the factory’s employees — tested positive for the virus and have begun treatment, including quarantining, according to a news release published Wednesday afternoon.
The remaining 87 percent of Indiana Packers employees and contractors were cleared to return on Friday when the plant reopens with limited operations.
Several meat-processing plants throughout the country, including a Tyson plant in Logansport, have closed because of employees becoming ill with the virus. The Associated Press reported that the Cass County plant opened Thursday with limited production.
The concern for Indiana Packers was for its employees’ health, plant officials said.
“The health-care resources provided were invaluable in our ongoing efforts to protect our team members and to begin reopening as expeditiously and safely as possible,” Indiana Packers’ President Russ Yearwood said.
The sick employees at meat processing plants do not pose a risk to the general public.
“There is not evidence that COVID-19 can be transferred from worker to food to us,” Jayson Lusk, Purdue distinguished professor and head of agriculture economics, said two weeks ago during an interview with the Journal & Courier.
As more meat-processing plants closed, meat on grocers’ shelves became more difficult to find and more expensive to purchase.
There are 15 plants in the United States that process 80 percent of the hogs, Lusk said. Two of those 15 plants — Tyson Meats in Logansport and Indiana Packers in neighboring Delphi, both northeast of Lafayette — closed because of coronavirus among employees of the processing plants.
Before closing, Indiana Packers processed 17,000 hogs a day, and Tyson’s plant in Logansport processed about 15,000 a day, Lusk said two weeks ago.
It only takes the interruption of three or four processing plants before supply shortages start becoming noticeable, driving up prices for consumers, Lusk said. Meanwhile, prices for farmers’ hogs and cattle tanked because the plants aren’t buying the animals during the shutdowns, Lusk said.
When Indiana Packers resumes operations on Friday, employees will find changes inside the plant and to their schedules that will enhance the employees social distancing, according to an Indiana Packers’ news release published Wednesday.
Even though the two plants are reopening, production will not return to pre-closure levels, Lusk said during an interview last week. But any increase in production provides relief to consumers feeding their families and for farmers looking to get their hogs to market.