Berry Global confirms employee tested positive for virus at Lawrence plant; facility remains open

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World File Photo

Berry Global, 2330 Packer Road, is pictured in this file photo from 2005.

A major Lawrence manufacturer has confirmed that an employee has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, but it has no plans to temporarily close the plant, which employs about 800 people.

A spokesperson with Berry Global confirmed that the manufacturer of plastic cups and packages received notice on Friday that an employee at its Lawrence facility had tested positive for the virus.

“In alignment with company protocol, Berry temporarily idled production in the areas (in) which the employee worked to ensure adequate time for effective sanitation,” the company said via a written statement from Eva Schmitz, communications director. “The company is continuing to take additional sanitizing measures in common areas within the facility.”

As required by code, public health officials have reached out to people who are deemed to have been a close contact of the employee and thus may be at medium to high risk for the virus. Berry confirmed that those individuals have been instructed to self quarantine for 14 days. How many employees that involved was not released. The name of the employee also was not released.

Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health did not provide any direct information about the Berry case. When the Journal-World asked the department about reports of a positive case at Berry, the health department said it could not provide information about the location of any positive case, including where an individual had worked.

Berry voluntarily released the information about the positive case after the Journal-World on Tuesday asked a company official about it.

Companies, however, aren’t required to publicly release such information or tell their employees that a fellow employee has tested positive, Dan Partridge, director of Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, told the Journal-World.

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Businesses also aren’t required to close for any certain period of time after an employee has tested positive for the virus, Partridge said. The statement from Berry did say the company idled some work at a portion of its facility, although further details were not provided.

The company is considered an essential business under the Douglas County code, which allows it to stay open during the stay-at-home order that is currently in force across the state.

“As an essential business that manufactures product for the food, healthcare, hygiene, and sanitation markets, Berry has maintained operations at the majority of its facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the company said in its written statement. “To further promote hygiene and safety among our teams, Berry has enhanced cleaning, limited visitors, and implemented social distancing measures at its facilities.”

Berry employs about 800 people at two locations in Lawrence. The company’s primary production center is at 2330 Packer Road, while it also has a facility just northwest of the city limits along the Kansas Turnpike.

Various manufacturers have taken different approaches on whether to temporarily close their Lawrence facilities during the pandemic. Hallmark is the largest manufacturer that has temporarily shut down its Lawrence plant. It closed its greeting card plant on March 23 for two weeks, although it is unclear whether the plant will reopen after two weeks, given the statewide stay-at-home order that is in place until April 19.

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