‘You have to assume the worst:’ City, company leaders tight lipped on COVID-19 outbreak at Patrick Cudahy

Data pix.
Steven Shea

Steven Shea

CUDAHY -- On April 15, the FOX6 Investigators broke the news that 28 cases of COVID-19 had been traced to the Patrick Cudahy meat processing plant. On Monday, April 27, Cudahy's top health official said she's not allowed to tell you how many cases there are now.

"Neither the city nor Smithfield are cooperating," said Steven Shea, Milwaukee County supervisor.

Shea said the silence at Cudahy City Hall has him worried.

"You have to assume the worst has happened," said Shea.

Shea lives within walking distance of the Patrick Cudahy plant, in the midst of a two-week "rolling shutdown" amid the COVID-19 outbreak that has workers scared for their safety.

Patrick Cudahy

Governor Tony Evers

Governor Tony Evers

"The company didn't do enough to prevent people from getting sick," said an employee.

"If this outbreak is the result of not enough physical distance between workers -- that's a problem," said Governor Tony Evers. "It needs to be fixed."

Two weeks ago, there were 28 cases tied to the plant. Now? No one is saying. The Cudahy health officer said the mayor won't allow her to talk about it.

State Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) said that's a problem.

"I don't know if it's just the mayor trying to protect the biggest employer he's got in this city, or if there's something that they're trying to hide," said Sinicki.

Rep. Christine Sinicki

Last week, the FOX6 Investigators filed an open records request for updates on the Patrick Cudahy outbreak. On Saturday, April 25, a city secretary wrote that we should not expect a response for at least three weeks. Smithfield Foods declined to comment "out of respect to its employees' privacy."

"Nobody is asking for names of the people," said Rep. Sinicki. "No one's asking for the addresses of the people. What people want to know is how many cases -- not who they are."

"I can't think of any reasons why either the city or Smithfield is keeping these numbers from the press," said Shea.

Officials with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1473, Smithfield Foods, the Cudahy Health Department and Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced on Friday, April 24 free COVID-19 testing for all Smithfield Foods/Patrick Cudahy employees regardless of symptoms on-site at the plant through April 28.

It's a move Shea called a step in the right direction, but only a step. He said there needs to be a full investigation.

"There need to be other steps," said Shea. "There needs to be transparency. There needs to be accountability."

In an email to FOX6 News, Cudahy Mayor Tom Pavlic said he's relying on the advice of health officials, including his own, to determine when to release testing information. In other words, he said he's relying on the advice of the very same health officer he won't allow to talk to the media.

Patrick Cudahy

Patrick Cudahy

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