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Cudahy's Smithfield plant facing questions of safety after mayor refuses to release COVID-19 numbers

Posted at 10:09 PM, Apr 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-28 23:27:06-04

CUDAHY — The Smithfield Foods plant in Cudahy could be reopening sometime this week after it closed because several employees tested positive for the coronavirus. But county and state leaders question if it is safe to open when the mayor of Cudahy and Smithfield refuses to answer questions about how many workers at the Patrick Cudahy plant have gotten sick.

Two weeks ago, on April 15th, Smithfield Foods announced it was closing the Patrick Cudahy plant for cleaning after some employees tested positive for coronavirus.

Milwaukee County Supervisor Steven Shea, who lives just a few blocks from the plant and represents Cudahy, said two weeks ago the number was 28 cases. But he doesn't know if that has grown.

"That is precisely the problem," said Shea. "Smithfield and the City of Cudahy have been hiding the number."

Milwaukee County Supervisor Sylia Ortiz-Velez said a lot of Smithfield employees live on the south side in the 53215 zip code. She believes the recent spike in COVID-19 cases is connected to the Smithfield facility.

Two weeks ago, Smithfield released a statement about its Cudahy plant saying:

"A small number of employees… have tested positive for COVID-19. Employees will be paid for the next two weeks, during which time essential personnel will repeat the rigorous deep cleaning and sanitization that have been ongoing at the facilities."

TMJ4 News reached out to Cudahy Health Department, who says they were told by the mayor they cannot answer questions related to this case. Cudahy Mayor Thomas Pavlic has not returned our phone calls or emails. Milwaukee County Health leaders also would not give specific numbers, only saying employees are now undergoing COVID-19 testing.

"There has been robust testing. There is guidelines from the state and DHS. Cudahy Health Department has been working very hard along with the state to ensure public safety," said Dr. Ben Weston, Milwaukee County Health Department.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) has been called in to investigate the plant and other meatpacking facilities around the state. State Representative Christine Sinicki, who represents Cudahy, said it might be possible for Smithfield to reopen, but she wants to know that it is safe to do so.

"It's really going to be up to the employees if it's not safe to say something," said Sinicki.

TMJ4 News reached out to the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1473 about the plant conditions but did not get a response back.

Smithfield told TMJ4 News the plant would remain closed the full two weeks but did not say when they would reopen.

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