01STOCK_CORONAVIRUS01

Rock County public health authorities say that Beloit food packaging plant Hormel Foods is reporting two of its workers are confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19, according to a daily briefing by the county’s health department.

A briefing the county released Friday afternoon confirmed that two workers at the plant at 3000 Kennedy Drive in Beloit have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The news comes as confirmed cases of COVID-19 grew from 63 late last week to 120 as of Friday afternoon, according to county figures on infections provided Friday. There have been four deaths from COVID-19 so far in the county, and as of Friday afternoon, there were no additional deaths reported this week.

The apparent increase of 57 confirmed cases reported to the county since last Friday is the biggest jump in reported coronavirus cases from one week to the next so far this month, according to data the county has shared daily.

The health department did not elaborate on the increase in cases countywide this week, but the county has said it is expanding criteria for testing for COVID-19.

In its briefing Friday, the department included a statement issued by Hormel that confirmed the two positive cases of COVID-19.

Neither the county nor Hormel in its statement gave details of the status of the two workers apparently infected, but Hormel said the company has stepped up its health and sanitation efforts at its food plants to protect its workers.

The company said it has brought in nurses to communicate with workers. Other measures include stepped up sanitation at its plants and increased personal hygiene for workers, plus communications delivered in several different languages.

Hormel’s plant in Beloit is a “value-added” food packing plant that produces and packs food items that are not related to meat packing, the company said.

Of Hormel’s 30 food plants, the company has shut down three temporarily during the COVID-19 crisis for extra cleaning and disinfecting measures.

Hormel did not say in its statement whether it planned a temporary shutdown in Beloit, although the company said it is communicating such measures, along with confirmed cases of infection, to county health authorities.

According to media reports this week, Hormel shut down on of its food plants in Rochelle, Illinois, after Ogle County, Illinois, ordered the closure after a COVID-19 outbreak of more than 20 cases in workers at the plant.

Rochelle is located about 45 miles south of Beloit along Interstate 90/39. It’s not clear whether any operations at the Rochelle and Beloit plants are linked.

Media reports said that only two of the workers infected in Rochelle live in neighboring Winnebago County, Illinois.

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