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Rantoul Foods, which has had at least 87 workers stricken with Covid-19 at its meat processing plant,  started hiring  again.

But the meat processing company said new workers “must take a Covid-19 test and receive negative results prior to starting work,” in an email Monday to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

Rantoul Foods is one of Central Illinois’ largest meat processing plants. Until the outbreak began in late April, workers processed 35 million pounds of meat a month. 

Now, “the plant has been operating at less than 50% of normal,” the company said, and plant officials are increasing production “in small increments as they have evaluated how to reincorporate employees who are returning from quarantine.” 

Rantoul Foods reported its first Covid-19 case April 25. Health inspectors made an on-site visit April 27 and found the plant to be more than 90% out of compliance with infection control practices. But the plant had been under scrutiny by health officials since March.

The plant is currently  complying with health regulations now,  health officials have said. 

Rantoul Foods said it stopped hiring after the first confirmed case. 

“After two weeks off and several days of no additional positive tests,” the company said they “have begun to slowly resume the hiring process.”

Workers are now encouraged to get tested, although they are not required to. The plant conducted a two-day mass testing event for workers on May 8 and 9 and were able to test 227 workers, plant management said earlier this month.  Up until then, about 200 workers had been tested.  The plant has about 627 workers, management said in earlier interviews. 

John Deere donated face shields “sufficient for the entire staff,” the company said. The shields are required in addition to the mandatory face masks workers must wear if they cannot maintain social distance “consistently throughout their shift.” 

The shields are also available to workers to use, even if they can maintain social distancing. 

A new drive-through community-based testing site launched May 19 at a shopping center in Champaign - about 20 minutes away - and is geared toward anyone with symptoms and essential workers with or without symptoms. The test is free and no referral is needed.