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An Omaha bakery, dairy plant are latest to count coronavirus cases among workers

An Omaha bakery, dairy plant are latest to count coronavirus cases among workers

A bakery and a dairy plant in the Omaha area are the latest food plants to count cases of COVID-19 among their workers.

A dozen employees at Rotella’s Italian Bakery at 6949 S. 108th St. in La Vista and two at Hiland Dairy’s Omaha plant at 2901 Cuming St. have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, company officials said Tuesday.

Rotella’s has been in contact with the local health department since learning of the confirmed cases, Louis Rotella III, chief operating officer, said in a statement. The employees who have tested positive will remain on paid sick leave until health officials confirm that it is safe for them to return to work.

In addition, he said, all employees who may be at risk for exposure due to close contact with the positive employees are at home, according to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, and also will receive full pay and benefits.

“As a family owned and operated company for nearly 100 years, the health and safety of our employees and their loved ones are of the utmost importance to us, and it’s a responsibility we take to heart,” Rotella said in the statement.

In addition to existing prevention efforts, the bakery was temporarily idled for deep cleaning. The bakery, with 475 full-time employees, is now open and fully operational.

The bakery has enhanced safety and social distancing measures, according to the statement. They include the use of personal protective equipment, such as requiring bakery-provided face coverings; daily wellness questionnaires and temperature checks upon arrival to work; plastic barriers between workers on the production floor; enhanced sanitation; and air sterilization.

At the Hiland plant, one of the employees reported testing positive for the virus on May 5 and the second person on Tuesday, said Kathy Broniecki, a spokeswoman for the company.

Loren Rohl, the general manager of Nebraska operations, which employ roughly 200 people, said production were not interrupted because of the coronavirus.

“We expect no disruption in our production and are in regular communication with our industry leaders and peers to compare best practices and implement new procedures as needed,” Rohl said. “We are providing our team members with hand sanitizer and protective clothing and have stepped up disinfection of the plant. We have implemented thermal scanning, are exercising social distancing in common areas and restricting visitors to the plant.”

Broniecki said sanitizing procedures were already strict because it’s a food plant — employees were always required to wear protective coverings, and disinfectants were sprayed on the factory floors to kill germs carried in on shoes.

And unlike meatpacking plants, at the dairy plant workers don’t work side by side, Broniecki said. Employees’ temperatures are taken as they arrive for work, and anyone with a fever would be sent home until they were well enough to work, Broniecki said.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, there currently is no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with food or food packaging.

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Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

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