ORLAND — The previous day was the first since contracting COVID-19 that Miller Poultry employee Daniel Noblit said he’s finally felt almost back to normal.
Noblit, 62, doesn’t know for certain where he contracted the virus, but said it’s definitely been rough.
He’s been employed at Miller Poultry for the last four years.
Miller Poultry over two days last weekend tested almost all of its employees for COVID-19 after there was an initial outbreak of seven positive cases April 30.
Miller worked with Cameron Memorial Community Hospital, Angola, in setting up a testing clinic on site at the plant near Orland that employs more than 1,000 in chicken processing.
The clinic consisted of a large tent with more than 40 members of the Cameron staff in personal protective equipment running a massive, assembly line of testing that covered May 1 and 2, officials said.
“We are trying to react early and stay in front of this wherever that takes us to keep our employees and communities safe,” Plant Manager Kevin Diehl said May 4.
Connie McCahill, president and CEO at Cameron, said, “I have never been so proud of any team in my 50-plus years of nursing. In true Cameron fashion, we saw community members in need and our brave and heroic staff mobilized in extraordinary fashion. Logistics, equipment, supplies and most importantly staffing was all coordinated in an extremely condensed time-frame. We had over 40 staff members who stepped up to make this happen, and I cannot express how grateful I am to work beside such giving and fearless people. Swabbing 800 people seemed a daunting task until we mobilized and began the process. It is difficult to explain how remarkable an event it was.”
“We are very proud of what we were able to accomplish in a very short amount of time to support our fellow community members. It was truly remarkable,” Kelly Keirns, Cameron’s director of strategy and development, said.
It is believed that the testing and protective measures put in place at Miller is preventing the spread of COVID-19, Diehl said.
Cameron personnel started setting up equipment at 9 a.m. May 1 and started testing at 12:45 p.m. Some 600 people were swabbed by 6:45 p.m. On May 2, testing resumed at 5 a.m. and ended by 8 a.m. with an additional 160 getting swabbed.
Testing showed 136 of 791 employees were positive for COVID-19.
On April 24, Noblit said he started getting a scratchy throat and a cough. Within 12 hours of feeling rough, he was “hurting really bad.”
“I stayed home from work Saturday (April 25), burning up with a fever and shaking,” he said. “I figured then it’s not good. I knew I couldn’t go to work because I was burning up.”
He managed to fall asleep that night, but woke up later drenched in sweat from the fever. At that time, he was feeling better but knew he still needed to get checked out.
On April 27, he went to the respiratory clinic at Urgent Care, Angola, and was tested for COVID-19. The next day, he got his positive test result.
He’s been in quarantine at his Orland home since.
When the Steuben County Health Department called him, he told them he worked for Miller Poultry and that he’s in contact, even with the measures in place, with a lot of people in the facility.
As a machine operator, he’s moving a lot, and he is sure he passed it on to others.
“I’ve had lots of pain in my joints, it’s terrible,” he said. “It’s hard to walk, cramping up. It’s been rough.”
The chills and body aches, he said, are like what you get with influenza but they don’t let up.
“Last night, today (Tuesday) I’m finally getting a break,” he said.
He said Miller Poultry has truly gone above and beyond for their employees to protect them during the pandemic and show them how important they are.
Unlike many of the other meat processors across the country that have run into huge problems with the spread of COVID-19, leading some to close and only be reopened by order of President Donald Trump, Miller could be the only such facility in Indiana to take matters in its own hands when it comes testing for the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“I am not aware of any other processors at least in Indiana that have tested their entire facility at their cost with local resources. I believe the state tested all the employees at the Logansport Pork plant last week with one of their strike teams. We looked into that however they could not do the testing until Friday of this week so we opted to do it a week sooner with local resources,” Diehl said.
“They have done so much for us,” Noblit said. “They’re paying me to be off sick right now, paying me to get better here at home.”
It’s pretty incredible of them, he said, what Miller is doing for its staff.
He said the plant has a policy in place that says nobody comes to work with a fever and they are checking each employee’s temperature at the door.
There are partitions in place, even at lunch tables, as well as a tent up to help employees stay socially distant even while taking a break.
“They have really gone out of their way to protect us while still running a business,” he said. “I can’t imagine what Mr. (Galen) Miller has gone through and still is knowing people are sick.”
People from Miller Poultry have called to check in on him, he said, and friends have dropped off food and other needs on his porch or in his car since he can’t go out to get things himself during his mandatory quarantine period.
“I’m doing my part, doing what I’m told,” Noblit said.
Finding out he was sick with the virus scared him a bit because of his age and how bad the symptoms became so quickly.
“This won’t keep me down,” he said.
“I don’t know how I caught it, but I’m sure I passed it on, made someone else sick, and that really bothers me,” he said. “But I had no idea I was going to get it or how I got it.”
He plans to return to work once his 14-day mandatory quarantine is over and he’s feeling healthy again.
And he’s looking forward to it.