COVID-19 REPORT | Don't assume majority of those testing positive at pork plant are Latino, leader says

Nelson Cuevas is director of the Cultivadores Latino Center. He said the public shouldn't assume that the majority of those testing positive for COVID-19 at the Rantoul Foods pork plant are Latino.

RANTOUL — A leader of the Latino community in Rantoul said area residents shouldn’t be quick to judge that the majority of people being infected with the COVID-19 virus while working at Rantoul Foods pork processing plant are Latinos.

Nelson Cuevas, director of Cultivadores Latino Center, said he knows some employees of the plant who are from other ethnic groups, and they have contracted the virus as well.

Cuevas said he has received requests from these workers and their families for assistance.

“I’ve had many relatives from different cultures call me to tell me a member of their family was infected with COVID-19 and they need help with groceries and they have asked me to pray for them because I’m a pastor,” Cuevas said.

“The rumor in the community is the majority of those infected are Latinos at the pork plant,” Cuevas said. “We don’t know that’s true. (The company prohibits) us from finding out who’s got what.”

Cuevas said some residents of the community feel the Latino community is to blame for the jump in COVID-19 cases and have made negative comments to him.

He said as he was walking in town, someone told him, “You illegals need to go back to where you’re from” and gave him a middle-finger salute.

He said other Latinos have said they have received similar treatment. They also got the middle finger and people walked away from them as if keeping an exaggerated social distance.

Cuevas said he has also seen negative comments on social media.

“Cultivadores provides child care for 90 percent of the essential workers in the food industry,” Cuevas said, “so I hear what these workers say. A lot of them, they need these jobs. A lot of them are scared to test because they’ll be without a job” if they test positive for the virus.

Beginning Friday, testing began at the pork plant for all employees.

The board of Cultivadores has started what it calls “The Solution Campaign” in which it is urging all Latinos to be tested for the virus regardless of where they work.

“We’re only one agency. We have a niche in the Latino community,” Cuevas said. “We wish we could help anyone else, but right now our focus is on educating the Latino community with the hope they get tested wherever it is provided a no cost to them.”

He said the center is sending out letters and using social media and texting to encourage people to get tested.

Cuevas said the public also should not have a negative view of Rantoul Foods.

“We’ve met with the (human resources personnel) at Rantoul Foods. They’ve always run a safe work environment. I’ve near heard any Latino people concerned about their safety before COVID-19. Anyone working anywhere (now) is concerned with COVID-19,” Cuevas said.

He said now many Latinos have stopped working at the pork plant  because they are afraid.

Cuevas said Rantoul Foods has been like every other work environment. It was in compliance with safety regulations prior to the pandemic, but those rules changed when the virus hit and it has upgraded its safety requirements.