Two area meat producers in mid-Missouri confirmed positive tests for COVID-19 last week.

Cargill in Marshall has not confirmed how many have tested positive and declined to comment. The meat processing facility employs around 620 people.

As for Burgers’ Smokehouse in California, they confirmed six workers tested positive as of April 16. It employs 300 mid-Missouri residents.

The outbreaks at the two plants have contributed to making Saline and Moniteau counties two of the state’s most-affected rural counties in the state. Saline County, with 54 cases in the state Department of Health and Senior Services count and 72 in the local tally, has the third-highest rate of per capita infections in the state and Moniteau County has the fifth-highest.

After three positive cases were confirmed April 15, management at Burgers’ Smokehouse announced that the plant would be shut down until Monday in order to conduct an internal investigation.

Burgers’ Smokehouse President Steven Burger said in a press release that the primary focus is to protect people while simultaneously fulfilling the plant’s critical role to provide meat products for customers and to maintain a market for livestock farmers.

Some changes implemented Monday morning were enhanced wellness checks. This includes a general check-up and a screening for COVID-19-related symptoms. Face masks also are required. Break facilities and production lines were redesigned to increase distancing between workers.

“We are closely monitoring test data from the Moniteau County Health Center and continue to utilize their public health expertise on a daily basis to guide decision-making,” Burger said.

Burgers’ Smokehouse is the largest producer of country ham in the United States serving under the Burgers’ Smokehouse, Clifty Farm Country Meats and Hobe’s Country ham brands.

Burgers’ Smokehouse says they will continue to work with Moniteau County Health to limit the spread of COVID-19.

As for Cargill, they will remain open despite having several workers test positive.

According to reports, the company won’t give a number of how many tested positive, but said staff members who came in contact are being quarantined.

Hospital plans

Thirteen of Saline County’s cases have recovered while two remain hospitalized.

Fitzgibbon Hospital in Marshall reported that 85 Saline county residents tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday morning. Results from an additional 45 tests are pending. To date, Fitzgibbon has tested 920 people, with 767 negative results. Those tested come from multiple Missouri counties and Fitzgibbon reports any positive results to respective resident counties.

It is business as usual inside the hospital and in terms of other emergencies, said Richard DeFord, public relations and marketing coordinator and public information officer at Fitzgibbon.

“We're not turning anybody away,” he said. “People see the tent outside of the hospital and that’s there to address the COVID concerns as best we can without exposing others.”

The hospital has planned for the entire community, so it is not focusing on just one employer. While Cargill is a large employer, there are others in Marshall, including the hospital, Conagra and the school district, DeFord said.

“We pretty much put a plan in place to be able to test all that we can,” he said.

The hospital has a two-pronged strategy. It wants to offer testing services to as many people as it can, while protecting current patients and staff. The hospital has curbside testing so people do not have to leave their vehicles. They do need orders from doctors to be tested, though.

"[This] protects our waiting room of our ER for those other individuals who are coming in for services that are not COVID-19 related.”

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