The feds told Illinois to leave Rochelle Foods alone. Then a second COVID-19 outbreak hit.

Brown Institute for Media Innovation, Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism and Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

On May 1, after testing found at least 123 COVID-19 cases out 900 tested workers at the Rochelle Foods plant in northern Illinois, Kyle Auman, the Ogle County Health Department director, was summoned to a conference call. 

On the emailed invite: six Trump administration political appointees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one infectious disease expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, several top officials at the Illinois Department of Public Health and the governor’s office – as well as lawyers and executives from Rochelle Foods.

At the time, Rochelle Foods, a subsidiary of Hormel that produces deli meats and bacon, had been shut for more than a week by Auman’s health department. Although CDC guidelines for essential workers included masks and social distancing, and cases at the plant were increasing, some workers were “still figuring out how to wear them,” Auman said.