More than 400 employees at the Sanderson Farms Moultrie plant have been sent home to quarantine after 15 employees in the company tested positive for coronavirus.
The details came out during a conference call on April 2. According to Chief Executive Officer Joe Sanderson, Jr., another 36 people from the plant were still waiting on test results.
After confirming the coronavirus cases, the Laurel, Miss.-based company contacted all employees who were in direct contact with the confirmed cases, asking them to quarantine until cleared to return to work. Those 30 employees will get full pay while they are out.
Additionally, 415 employees at the Moultrie plant who live in Doughtery County, where there is a significant COVID-19 outbreak, have been asked to quarantine at home with pay. The company made the decision after receiving advice from the local health department.
"That county has experienced a spike in positive results and as a result we have asked those employees to quarantine at home with pay for 14 days," CEO Joe F. Sanderson Jr. said on the call. "We have no indication these employees aren’t healthy but have done this as a precaution and on the advice and counsel of the local health department officials."
As of April 2, an additional 204 employees were also out with pay because they were showing symptoms of the virus.
"Of those quarantined since the start of this crisis, 152 are healthy and have returned to work for which we are very, very grateful," said Sanderson. "We have communicated with every employee at the locations to inform them of the steps we are taking and to answer their questions."
Right now, the Moultrie plant is operating at 50 percent capacity. After sending workers home, the poultry giant said it would reduce output to 1 million birds a week from 1.3 million in Moultrie. Georgia is the country's largest poultry-producing state.
Officials expect they will soon need to make a decision on euthanizing birds on the farm if they can't keep up with the production. They say they have the contingency ready to go if they have to make that decision.
As far as safety measures are concerned, Sanderson Farms officials said that they are taking the temperatures of all people who enter their buildings for the next four weeks.
While the company doesn't have any current concerns about potential product contamination, they are taking some extra steps:
Sanderson Farms reported its first employee with the virus on March 23. That employee worked in Mississippi.
The company has also implemented a weekly attendance bonus for all employees who work all their scheduled hours equivalent to $1 an hour for each hour worked.
Sanderson Farms has plants in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia, including in nearby Adel, Ga.