St. Charles Smithfield Foods worker dies after contracting COVID-19, family says

ST. CHARLES, Ill. (WLS) -- At least one worker at the Smithfield Foods plant in west suburban St. Charles has died. Her family says she had COVID-19.

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The woman's family said she was set to retire next month and passed away after contracting the virus. Now, her family wants the plant to stay closed so no one else gets sick.

Alicia Cruz was a wife, mother, and grandmother. Her family said the 64-year-old died after a battle with COVID-19.

"She started with the cough," said her daughter, Marisol Quintero. "The cough was bad and it got worse."

Quintero believes her mom contracted the deadly virus while working at the Smithfield dry sausage facility in St. Charles.

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"They need to stay shut down and they need to figure out what it is that is making people sick," Quintero said.

Alicia's last day at work was April 3. Her family said she did not have protective equipment and was worried about standing next to dozens of other workers as she worked long hours in the plant.

Smithfield stated on its website: "As soon as the CDC revised their guidance to recommend that those outside the healthcare industry wear face coverings, we immediately began implementing that guidance... Even prior to April 3, we were attempting to source these items, all the while remaining cognizant and respectful of the CDC guidance and the shortage of masks for healthcare workers..."

"They told her, no, everyone is working and working through this and they actually even worked mandatory overtime Saturdays as well," Quintero said.

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Employees at the St. Charles plant told ABC7 at least 20 workers have tested positive for the virus.

But, Smithfield Foods - one of the country's leading protein companies - will not say if they have any COVID-19 positive employees at the plant, citing privacy concerns.

This is not the first Smithfield Foods plant to shut down due to COVID-19. Their plant in Monmouth, Illinois, closed after employees tested positive for the virus. Also, the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, closed after 800 workers tested positive.

But, the company says they are doing everything in their power to protect their team members from COVID-19 in the workplace.

"We are taking the upmost precautions to ensure the health and well-being of our employees and consumers," said Ken Sullivan, president and CEO of Smithfield Foods. "As a food manufacturer, there are thousands of procedures we follow every day to create a highly sanitary environment to produce our products safely."

The Cruz family says they wish the plant had closed sooner.

"They are not essential. We do not need sausage," Quintero said. "I hope they think about the families they have affected."

The Kane County Health Department said the company will remain closed during the investigation.
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