An outbreak of COVID-19 at the Kraft Heinz plant that makes all the Oscar-Mayer bologna sold in the United States was confirmed Wednesday, the same day the Missouri Chamber of Commerce asked for a law protecting businesses from lawsuits by sick workers.
Five more cases of COVID-19 were reported in Adair County on Wednesday, increasing the county's total to 37, the Kirksville Daily Express reported.
Michael Mullen, the senior vice president of corporate affairs at Kraft Heinz, confirmed its Kirksville facility has had positive cases.
"A handful of Kraft Heinz employees in our Kirksville, Missouri factory have tested positive for Coronavirus (COVID-19) and are in self-quarantine at home with full pay," said Mullen in a statement to the Daily Express. "We have taken all necessary steps to identify and notify individuals who worked closely with these employees. We have taken several proactive measures to ensure the wellbeing of our people and to help reduce the risk of virus exposure or transmission."
The plant employs about 900 people in Kirksville and is the sole bologna producer for the company in North America. It also produces cotto salami, round white turkey and square cut ham.
There were five additional cases in Audrain County on Wednesday, bringing that county’s total to 21. Most of the recently discovered cases in Audrain County are associated with pork production facilities in Paris and Thompson.
And in Saline County, which has the state’s highest infection rate from cases associated with Cargill and Conagra facilities, three additional cases were reported Wednesday, bringing the total to 260.
In all, there have been 11,232 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Missouri since the first case was reported March 7, an increase of 152, and 631 deaths, an increase of 15.
There have been outbreaks associated with workplaces, especially meatpacking plants, in Buchanan, Sullivan and several other counties.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday urged Gov. Mike Parson to call a special session so lawmakers can take action to protect businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits.
In a letter to the Republican governor, the chamber called coronavirus liability an "emerging problem in Missouri." The organization cited lawsuits filed by those who believe they contracted COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, on the premises of a business.
The chamber said that under current state law, the lawsuits can move forward regardless of whether businesses were taking precautions aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.
Chamber President Daniel P. Mehan said companies "that are making a good faith effort and taking the necessary precautions should not face crippling COVID-19 litigation."
Parson, during his afternoon news conference, said any special session would need to involve multiple issues. But he also expressed concerns about coronavirus-related lawsuits.
"We're not going to let attorneys go out here and sue everybody because they were doing their jobs," Parson said.
Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys President Brett Emison said in a statement that state laws already protect health workers during crises including the coronavirus pandemic. He said Missourians shouldn't have to give up their constitutional right to access the courts because of COVID-19.
"If businesses have no accountability, how can employees and customers feel safe?" he said.
In other coronavirus-related actions, Republican state Sen. Bob Onder urged the state health department to drop a proposed regulation that would give local health departments permanent authority to close schools, churches and other gatherings. A March 20 emergency order gave local departments that power during the coronavirus pandemic, Onder, of St. Charles County, said.
"We ought to be really skeptical about doing this in the future absent clear-cut evidence that that was necessary," Onder said in an interview. "Because heaven knows we've done just terrible, terrible damage to our economy and to people's lives with some doubt as to whether it was the right course."
The letter was signed by Onder and 18 Republican colleagues.
St. Louis-area kids and families bored at home during the coronavirus shutdown will start to see new options open up next month, when the St. Louis Zoo, summer camps and swimming pools all are expected to reopen.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced Wednesday that summer camps will likely be able to open starting June 1. County officials are still working on guidelines. A news release from the county said officials are hoping to allow pools to open in early June.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis Zoo announced that it will reopen June 13, though with enhanced measures that seek to limit the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Across the state, the Kansas City Zoo opened Saturday. Summer camps also began earlier this month in Kansas City.