Johnsonville plant in Holton temporarily closes its facility

A Kansas plant that makes sausage has shut down after employees tested positive for the coronavirus, and an outbreak that has infected hundreds at the state’s largest prison has claimed the life of another worker.

“This has been an extremely difficult week for our agency and staff,” Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) Secretary Jeff Zmuda said Wednesday in a written statement.

The Johnsonville plant in Holton, which employs about 230 workers, took effect Wednesday after five employees tested positive. Johnsonville didn’t announce when it plans to reopen the plant.

“It’s a tough decision to halt production, but we appreciate Johnsonville for doing this to help us stop the spread of COVID-19,” says Angie Reith, Jackson County Health Officer.

Johnsonville said all employees will continue to get paid, and downtime will be used to implement other safety measures, such as installing additional barriers between workstations where social distancing isn’t possible. The plant already had been requiring mandatory temperature checks before employees entered the facility and face masks and shields on the plant floor.

Johnsonville spokeswoman Stephanie Dlugopolski said in an email that the shutdown is expected to affect some fresh sausage deliveries to U.S. retailers, although the company will be able to keep up with demand because other facilities are “healthy and operating fully throughout the Midwest.“

Last month, President Donald Trump issued an executive order requiring meatpacking plants to stay open amid the pandemic. Dlugopolski didn’t immediately respond to questions about whether the order affected the plant.

Two of the deaths have been among meatpacking workers, state health officials said Monday.