As a public service, Shaw Media will provide open access to information related to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) emergency. Sign up for the newsletter here
ROCHELLE – An outbreak of COVID-19 has forced the Ogle County Health Department to order the closure of Hormel’s Rochelle Foods plant.
As of Friday, 24 cases have been linked to the facility: 19 in Ogle County, three in Whiteside County and two in Winnebago County.
“My team has spent countless hours in collaboration with Rochelle Foods in an attempt to mitigate the virus spread,” OCHD Administrator Kyle Auman said. “Since those efforts were unsuccessful, it is my duty to order a complete closure of the facility.”
The facility will have 48 hours to comply with the order, which will be in effect for two weeks from the date of compliance.
Multiple measures were taken by the OCHD in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, including recommendations for additional testing, additional steps for employee monitoring, additional sanitation processes, isolation of positive cases, quarantine of close and household contacts, and a recommendation of a voluntary two-week closure.
"Rochelle Foods was issued a notice of closure from the local health department on April 17. We are working to further understand the closure order and are consulting with our legal counsel to understand next steps," according to a statement from Rochelle Foods. "We have decided to voluntarily close our facility to ensure a broader understanding of COVID-19 in the Rochelle community, Ogle county and the impact on our operations. Rochelle Foods team members will continue to be paid during the closure."
The City of Rochelle was briefed on the need to close the plant.
“Although many essential businesses are open and operating, we will not tolerate them risking the health and safety of their employees in our community during this pandemic or any other time,” Rochelle Mayor John Bearrows said.
Rochelle City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh said that the plant employs 800 people, and that number is over 900 if you count contractors. He also spoke to what will follow if the plant chooses not to comply with the closure order.
"They don't have a choice," Fiegenschuh said. "If they don't comply, the county will seek a court order."
The local health departments in the region continue to work with the Illinois Department of Public Health to identify and notify those who may have been in close contact with the individuals who have tested positive for the virus.
Rochelle Foods employees who believe they have been exposed and are symptomatic should contact their health provider for direction.
As of Friday, Ogle County has reported 41 total cases of COVID-19 and one death as a result of it.