WILLMAR — Carris Health is working with Jennie-O Turkey Store to collect samples from Willmar employees for coronavirus testing.

According to a statement Thursday from Carris Health, this is an effort to help Jennie-O protect its team members and minimize the impact of the virus on our community.

"Jennie-O is one of the largest employers in the Willmar community. Carris Health recognizes the importance of helping Jennie-O care for their organization by ensuring the safety of their employees through expanded testing. This will benefit the Jennie-O employees and our entire community," said Carnie Allex, co-incident commander for the Carris Health COVID-19 Incident Command.

An area near the Carris Health clinic on Willmar Avenue has been cordoned off for testing.

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"As a safety precaution, and for the privacy of those being tested, we ask that anyone not being tested refrain from visiting the testing location,” Allex added.

Steve Lykken, president of Jennie-O Turkey Store, said in a statement Thursday that the company continues to take every step it can to ensure the health and safety of our team members and our communities.

"Over the next few days, we are collaborating with the county and local hospitals working to test our team members as we work toward reopening our facility," he said.

" ... We know that increased testing also means the likelihood of more positive test results, but we believe this is in the best interest of our staff and our communities."

The company had voluntarily paused operations at the two Willmar plants late last month. At that time, 14 employees who worked at its Willmar Avenue plant had tested positive for COVID-19.

In a separate statement issued Thursday, Jennie-O Turkey Store announced that it has reopened its Benson Avenue facility in Willmar with a core group of team members and planned to ramp up production over the next few days.

The company has already taken steps including enhanced sanitation practices, taking team members' temperatures and providing masks and other protective equipment and on-site health care professionals.

Lykken said the company has continued to communicate often to employees, ensuring that they know to stay at home when feeling unwell.

"All team members that are feeling unwell are told to stay home, maintain social distance and other preventative measures and will receive 100 percent of their base pay and benefits,” he said in the statement.

He said the company, since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, has taken immense efforts to mitigate the spread in sales offices and plant locations, employing industry-leading prevention and sanitation efforts.

Now in addition, the company is launching “KEEP COVID OUT!” campaign throughout its facilities and communities.

"The KEEP COVID OUT! campaign is a reminder that we share a responsibility to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our work, homes and communities. Our company has put numerous protocols in place in all our locations to ensure the health and well-being of our team members.," Lykken said.

"With the launch of the KEEP COVID OUT! campaign, we are adding the additional steps to remind people how important all the preventative efforts are once they out in the community or at home."

Jennie-O Turkey Store is comprised of 12 lay farms, three hatcheries, more than 100 commercial growing farms, eight feed mills and seven processing plants across Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to an online company profile, and employs more than 7,000 in total. Two processing plants are located in Willmar. Others are in Faribault, Melrose, Montevideo and Pelican Rapids in Minnesota and one in Barron, Wisconsin.

Jennie-O Turkey Store is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hormel Foods Corporation, based in Austin, Minn.

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