Pilgrim's won't confirm positive COVID-19 tests at Elberton facility
Bubba Foods, LLC, announced Tuesday that “colleagues” at its local plant have tested positive for COVID-19.
“We have colleagues who have tested positive for COVID-19 in our Elberton, Georgia facility,” said Travis Crouse, Bubba Foods’ Chief Operating Officer. “Our thoughts and prayers are with these members of our team during this difficult time. There is nothing more important to Bubba Foods than the health and safety of our team and we believe communication is vital to our success in managing through this unprecedented situation. Upon receiving news of the positive results we immediately notified all employees at the production facility and we have been in contact with the local health department.”
In the meantime, Nikki Richardson of JBS USA & Pilgrim’s Corporate Communications office, told The Elberton Star Saturday that Pilgrim’s has had employees test positive for COVID-19, but she would not confirm that the Elberton facility had employees that had tested positive.
“Pilgrim’s has had team members test positive for COVID-19 in the U.S.” said Richardson after The Star had asked if the company would verify positive results for COVID-19 at its Elberton plant. “We are offering support to those team members and their families, and we hope they make a full and speedy recovery. Out of respect for the families, we are not releasing further information.”
According to Crouse, in March of 2020 Bubba Foods implemented numerous practices and procedures in an attempt to reduce the exposure to employees in Elberton. Some the actions included the development of a COVID-19 response team that monitored the virus and followed the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
The response team implemented:
• Increased frequency and intensity of the cleaning/disinfecting of commonly touched areas in break rooms (door handles, vending machines, etc.).
• The addition of sanitizer stations in areas of commonly touched surfaces.
• Availability of infrared thermometers to all employees who wish to have their temperatures taken.
• A strict “no visitor” policy.
• Distribution of face coverings to all workers.
• Continued training and focus on process improvements. CDC posters are located within the plant for all colleagues to access if there are any questions.
• Provided access to a telemedicine physician provider to support all our team members.
Crouse said employees at Bubba Foods are asked to stay home and seek medical attention if they are not feeling well.
“These are only a few of the steps we have taken to protect our teams from COVID-19,” said Crouse. “We are also making continuous revisions to our production expectations, processes and layout in a sustained effort to refine our safe operating practices and comply with the changing CDC and United State Department of Agriculture guidelines.”
Crouse ended by saying Bubba Foods is focusing on safety and producing meat products to customers.
“With a clear and concerted effort from all stakeholders that focuses on the safety of our colleagues, Bubba Foods remains committed to producing our essential product in this time of great need and unprecedented demand by our customers,” said Crouse.
The Star inquired about the possibility of an employee at Pilgrim’s facility in Elberton testing positive for COVID-19 after the newspaper was told employees at the facility were told “to stay at work and to keep quiet.”
Richardson said that no one is forced to come to work and no one is punished for being absent for health reasons.
Like Bubba Foods, Richardson said keeping employees safe is Pilgrim’s “number one priority.”
Richardson listed the COVID-19 preventive measures taken at the Elberton plant:
• Temperature testing all team members prior to entering facilities;
• Providing extra personal protective equipment (PPE), including protective masks, which are required to be worn at all times;
• Promoting physical distancing by staggering starts and breaks, and increasing spacing in cafeterias, break and locker rooms, including plexiglass dividers in key areas;
• 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;
• Removing vulnerable populations from 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.
Richardson also pointed out that Pilgrim’s has been identified as a critical infrastructure industry for the food supply in the United States.
“The U.S. government ... has stated we have a special responsibility to maintain normal work schedules on behalf of the nation,” said Richardson. “We take this responsibility seriously and are doing our best to safely provide food to the country during a challenging time.”