DODGE CITY — With two national meatpacking plants in the county’s jurisdiction, Ford County is increasing its testing and the plants are beefing up COVID-19 protocols.


The numbers for Ford County have increased to 544 individuals who have had or still have the coronavirus as of April 28. This amounts to 1.6% of the county’s population.


But, according to J.D. Gilbert, a spokesman for the county, 90% of those infected have recovered. No deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in Ford County. Statewide, the deaths from the virus are at 124, or four deaths per 100,000 individuals.


As for the meatpacking plants, Claudio Diaz, a United Food and Commercial Workers international union representative at Cargill in Dodge City, said the facility is doing everything it can.


“In the facility we’re in, it’s in pretty good shape,” Diaz said. “They’re trying to keep it (coronavirus) out.”


Cargill has instituted several safety measures, including temperature testing, distributing face masks, extra cleaning and sanitizing measures and social distancing efforts, ranging from staggered breaks and shift flexibility to the installation of barriers between work stations. National Beef has taken similar measures.


The UFCW, which represents 9,000 meatpacking workers in Kansas, is urging Washington, D.C., to ensure there are clear guidelines in place for all meatpacking frontline workers. In Kansas, this includes National Beef in Ford and Seward counties, Cargill in Ford County, Tyson in Finney County and Hormel Foods in Wabaunsee County.


According to the UFCW, “Tyson and every company across this vital industry, must immediately join with UFCW in calling for federal and state elected leaders to designate these front-line workers as first responders. Temporary first responder status ensures these workers have priority access to the COVID-19 testing and protective equipment they need to continue doing these essential jobs.”


Diaz said that because of the increased protocols at Cargill, people feel safer inside the facility right now as opposed to outside.