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Employees claim COVID outbreak at Pilgrim’s Pride

Published: Jul. 7, 2020 at 7:05 PM EDT
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LIVE OAK, Fla. (WCTV) - Several employees and supervisors at Pilgrim’s Pride Chicken Plant have tested positive for COVID-19, and the Suwannee County Health Department is investigating.

Both the health department and Pilgrim’s Pride have not released how many workers were sick, but employees are claiming dozens of their colleagues have tested positive.

Several employees are voicing their concerns to WCTV about their well-being at work.

“That’s chicken grease and everything else. Chicken fat,” employee Marlena Coleman said while showing a reporter her PPE.

Items like a hair net and plastic arm coverings were provided to her by the company, but according to her, she is asked to re-use them day after day.

“They don’t change them out. The only time they change them out is if you rip them and have to take them back,” Coleman said.

Employees also claim they’re given garbage bags to wear each day over their clothes as they work.

“I don’t think the trash bags that we are wearing is the proper PPE,” employee Amy Fritz said.

Fritz is a mother of five. Both her and one of her children have weakened immune systems.

“It just makes me scared to work there and makes me not want to go to work, but I know I have to to support my family,” she said.

Her husband Franklin Fritz also worries.

“No parent should ever have to have that fear of burying a child, and they don’t seem to care at Pilgrim’s,” he said.

Cindy Traywick is under a 14-day quarantine with her boyfriend who tested positive for the virus following a mass COVID-testing provided on-site.

“He had to have gotten it out there because he only goes from there to home. He don’t go anywhere else,” Traywick said. “It’s getting out of control.”

Marta Depima is also under quarantine with her niece who says she’s sure she contracted the virus at work. It’s now spread to Depena’s husband who’s tested positive as well.

“I’ve been hearing from her and from other people how everything’s getting bad and what is going on and they’re not doing much about it, and it’s escalating,” she said.

Her niece has worked with the company for four years but says when she recovers, she will not return to work at Pilgrim’s.

“I really want somebody to take care of that from the top because nothing is coming, and a lot of people are getting sick,” Depima said.

WCTV took these claims to corporate leaders and the Florida Health Department.

When directly asked about trash bags being worn as PPE, whether or not their agency has been on-site for inspection and any COVID-related deaths, Kerry Waldron with the Florida Department of Health responded to WCTV with this statement:

“Typically, the Department employs approximately 500 full-time epidemiologists. DOH hired 359 additional epidemiologists as temporary staff. More than 1,600 individuals, including students, epidemiologists and other staff from across the Department, are currently involved in contact tracing every positive case of COVID-19 in Florida. The Florida Department of Health has also engaged with MAXIMUS, a widely recognized company with previous experience in supporting governmental agencies, to hire an additional 400 contact tracers and 200 disease investigators. These individuals will support the Department in conducting investigations and contact tracing. This initiative will supplement the state’s current contact tracing efforts. The Department is continuously assessing the operational need to remain prepared to respond to any potential increase in cases. Section 381.0031, Florida Statutes, gives the Department the statutory authority to conduct epidemiological investigations, which includes contact tracing. Contact tracing is an important epidemiological process that considers direct contacts of the infectious individual and secondary and tertiary contacts who may have been exposed to the virus. In addition to conducting a thorough investigation to determine any potential close contacts, the Department advises that contact tracers utilize and discuss the most up-to-date and current guidance from the CDC and provide individuals with relevant infographics and other educational material which are found on https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/.”

Corporate officers with Pilgrim’s Pride declined an interview with WCTV and instead provided this response:

“At our Live Oak facility, we are following all CDC and OSHA issued guidance around safety and social distancing, and we’re doing everything possible to provide a safe working environment for our team members. Two weeks ago, we offered COVID-19 testing on site for anyone who wanted to be tested, and we have implemented numerous preventive measures at our facility that include:

· Temperature testing all team members prior to entering facilities, including the use of hands-free thermometers and thermal imaging testing technology;

· Providing extra personal protective equipment (PPE), including protective masks that are required to be worn at all times;

· Conducting health screenings for anyone entering the facility;

· Increasing spacing in cafeterias, break and locker rooms, including dividers in common areas and on the production floor;

· Promoting physical distancing by staggering starts, shifts and breaks;

· Increasing sanitation and disinfection efforts, including whole facility deep-cleaning every day;

· Hiring dedicated staff whose only job is to continuously clean facilities, including common areas beyond the production floor;

· Hiring staff to assist with education, training and enforcement of COVID-19 preventive measures;

· Using germicidal air sanitation with ultraviolet (UV) and bipolar ionization technology, which help to neutralize viruses in plant ventilation and air purification systems;

· Removing vulnerable populations from our facilities, offering full pay and benefits;

· Requiring sick team members to stay home from work;

· Waiving short-term disability waiting periods;

· Providing free 100% preventative care to all team members enrolled in the company’s health plan;

· Offering free LiveHealth Online services for team members enrolled in the company’s health plan that allow for virtual doctor visits at no cost;

· Educating and encouraging team members to practice social distancing at home and in the community outside of work; and

· Restricting access to facilities and not allowing visitors.”

We also reached out to Live Oak city and Suwannee County officials who both referred us back to the Health Department. Mayor Frank Davis also declined to comment.

Copyright 2020 WCTV. All rights reserved.

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