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Monmouth Pork Plant Shutters After Employees Contract COVID-19

One of western Illinois' largest employers is shutting down after a "small portion" of its 1,700-strong workforce tested positive for COVID-19.

The Monmouth Smithfield Foods plans produces about three percent of the country's fresh pork products. It also makes bacon.

At least two Rock Island County residents and one Warren County resident who worked at the plant tested positive for the virus on April 17. Further cases at the plant haven't been disclosed since then. Warren County has reported 45 positive cases since April 10.

“The news that Smithfield Foods will close its Monmouth facility beginning next week is concerning," said U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Moline) in a statement Saturday. "Public health and the safety of those at the facility must come first and I am glad to learn that Smithfield will pay its workers during this time. However, this is also devastating news for many of our family farmers, who continue to feed America under unprecedented hardship."

In a statement, Smithfield Foods said it is supplying employees with face masks and other personal protective nature, but said the labor-intensive nature of meat processing work makes social distancing difficult.

The Smithfield Foods plant in Monmouth is one of many meat processing plants across the U.S. to close in recent weeks as the facilities become hotbeds for COVID-19 transmission.

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Tim Shelley is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.