One of Madisonville’s major employers revealed Friday that a worker has tested positive for the coronavirus. That’s led to the plant shutting down for an extended weekend.
A statement from General Electric Aviation said the company is contacting “employees who had close contact” with the patient, “asking them to self-quarantine.” The employee was not named.
The leader of the union representing GE Aviation said “multiple” employees are now in quarantine. Andy Blades declined to give an exact number, and also declined to say if the patient is male or female.
The President of IUE-CWA Local 701 said he had a “lot of negotiations” Friday with the plant management. They ended with an agreement to close the plant at 3:15 p.m. Friday. It’s scheduled to reopen at 3:30 p.m. Monday, after a weekend of deep cleaning.
Blades said that means three shifts will be skipped: Friday afternoon, Sunday overnight and the Monday day shift. That’s less than he wanted.
“We are requesting a standard 14-day period from the last time anyone in that area may have been in contact,” Blades said after a morning negotiating session. He explained that would include a full week as well as the surrounding weekends.
Blades was not sure Friday afternoon if employees would be paid for the canceled shifts.
Perry Bradley, GE Director of Media Relations, said the company was doing what it could to protect against COVID-19.
The steps include “reinforcing social distancing, personal hygiene best practices and increased frequency of disinfection of common areas.”
Prior to Friday’s announcement, Blades had said he considered the Madisonville plant safe.
“They began separating shifts and putting a gap between shifts,” Blades said. The next shift now begins 15 minutes after the last one ends. But Blades admitted keeping the plant virus-free is a challenging process.
“It’s something that could spread across the plant,” Blades said.
As of Friday afternoon, Hopkins County had three confirmed cases of the coronavirus. But it’s not clear if the GE Aviation case is counted among them.
“I would assume that it is,” Judge-Executive Jack Whitfield Jr. said. But he noted any official word must come from the Hopkins County Health Department, which has been very cautious about releasing patient details.
About 500 people work at the GE Aviation plant in Madisonville. A sign outside the plant Friday said it had gone 45 days without a lost workday. Blades said a decision on whether COVID-19 ends that streak would be up to state labor officials.