Cargill to close for a week

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HAZLETON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Luzerne County has the highest number of confirmed cases in our area with 982. The really disturbing news? 849 of those cases are in Hazleton, according to Mayor Jeff Cusat.

It’s no secret the greater Hazleton area has been identified as one of the largest COVID-19 hotspots in our region. With such a dense population and essential personnel filling buildings in the Humboldt Industrial Park, one company is taking a stand.

‘We have thousands of employees that are going into a building together, elbow to elbow, sharing the workspace,” Representative Tarah Toohil said.

Thousands of workers in essential production roles may be trying to adhere to social distancing regularly, but haven’t been able to comply on the line. Cargill Protein employs over 800 people to process meat every day. Local lawmakers continue to urge companies to halt production to keep these communities safe. Some companies are stepping up to the plate.

“I was contacted by the Department of Health last night,” Toohil said Tuesday night. “800 employees that would be out of their homes and working in very close quarters with other workers are gong to be able to stay home for seven days.”

Cargill Protein confirming with Eyewitness News Tuesday that “as we continue to prioritize the health and safety of Cargill employees, we have decided to temporarily close our Hazleton case-ready protein plant. This will allow us to minimize the impact of COVID-19 and continue to follow health department guidelines.”

An effort applauded by elected officials who say Cargill has been at the forefront of protecting their employees during this pandemic.

“We have routine, daily conference calls with the business community, especially within our industrial parks,” Senator John Yudichak said.

“Three weeks ago, before anyone else was doing it, they were taking temperatures and doing questionnaires with their employees. We’ve been using them as an example for the other industrial parks,” Toohil said.

Cargill setting a precedent that these officials hope catch on.

“If other plants would just be willing to hit the pause button and allow workers to stay home, we can flatten this curve,” Toohil said.

It’s not with a light hand this decision was made by Cargill. Representative Toohil says she’s been assured this won’t make a terrible impact on food supply.

Senator Yudichak says while meat processing is deemed essential, this action puts people over profits and is one step in fighting this pandemic in one of the worst areas in our region.

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