MOULTRIE, Ga. -- Sanderson Farms, much like every other business, has dealt with COVID-19’s effects since March. Tackling its myriad of effects, the poultry farming company put together a task force to handle it.

This task force compiles managers from multiple areas of the company, as well as executives and a few infectious disease doctors to help guide safety measures within their facilities.

They meet multiple times a day, Pic Billingsley, director of development and engineering, said.

“The way it’s (COVID-19) impacting our business and impacting the communities in which we operate in has been ever-changing,” he said.

Case in point, when Sanderson Farms sent 415 poultry plant workers, all Dougherty County residents, home from the Moultrie plant because of the high number of cases in their home county.

Billingsley said they didn’t want to infect the plant or Colquitt County, so those employees were sent home with pay, asked to quarantine, and were brought back once Sanderson Farms felt it was safe to do so.

Removing that many people from your workforce can be a problem though.

“We’ve got about 1,500 people at the plant in Moultrie,” Billingsley said. “Obviously taking 400 people out of that workforce was a challenge for us, but it was a challenge that all of our managers there stepped up [to deal with].”

The plant — one of Colquitt County’s largest employers — continued to service its customers regularly but faced difficulties in being undermanned. Sanderson Farms recovered from it, though it still faces the threat of COVID-19.

The task force reviews COVID-19 numbers in the community everyday and continues to follow COVID-19 guidelines in their factories as a minimum requirement, Billingsley said. He said that they regularly go beyond it as the healthcare of Sanderson Farms’ workers are what’s important.

“We make sure we’ve got people operating and working in an environment that is as safe as it can be,” he said.

In addition to normal sanitation processes throughout the day, Sanderson Farms has a sanitation crew servicing the plant everyday with a specific focus towards employee welfare areas.

Added on to that is a third-party sanitation crew Sanderson Farms hired to disinfect its plants during the weekends. Billingsley said this crew has prior experience in working against the virus.

“They worked up in the northwest in Washington when [COVID-19] first hit the country, so they have a lot of experience in dealing with this type of situation,” he said.

All employees are temperature-checked upon coming into the plant. If they’re feeling symptoms, they’re asked to stay at home, consult with a healthcare provider, and provide proper documentation to the company for paid time off until they get better.

Much like many other places, Sanderson Farms encourages workers to stay home if they feel or are sick. However, if a person does test positive, the plant is required to “do their homework.”

“We’ve got a team of nurses at the plant and then we’ve got a team of nurses at our corporate office that support the plant,” Billingsley said. “They’ll look at that. If there was person that we feel was at risk because of close contact with that positive, we send that person home for 14 days from last exposure with the contact.”

That employee is paid as well.

This “homework” is done outside of the plant too. If an employee has a family member or someone else they’ve come in contact with that tested positive or is showing symptoms, that employee is asked to quarantine.

International, cruise and amusement park travel is restricted for all employees. This is the direct advice of the infectious disease doctors brought on to the company.

“Anything that our infectious disease doctors think is an at-risk situation for our employees, we try to keep that in the documentation, share it with the employees, and then we ask them to stay away from a situation like that,” he said.

If Billingsley had to say how the worries of COVID-19 evolved for the company, it’d be about the philosophy of keeping people safe from something you can’t see.

Safety has always been important, but on top of that you’re adding ways to protect others from disease with social distancing, face masks and shields.

It becomes a more involved process where you’re asking yourself “How do you protect someone from something you can’t see?” and “How do you manage your business with something you can’t see?”

“It’s much, much, much more difficult from a safety standpoint and that’s what you’re doing,” Billingsley.

Yet, you also have to be flexible as the world learns more in handling the virus.

“No two days are the same,” he said. “There’ll be some situations we have to deal with and work through. That’s the pathway we take everyday when we come to work. We spend a large part of everyday work doing today what we didn’t do in March.”

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