ROCHELLE — The Ogle County Health Department has ordered Hormel’s Rochelle Foods facility to immediately close after 24 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to the plant.


The facility was given 48 hours to comply, the Ogle County Health Department and city of Rochelle said in a joint news release. The plant is to remained closed for two weeks.


"Although many essential businesses are open and operating, we will not tolerate them risking the health and safety of their employees or our community during this pandemic or any other time," Rochelle Mayor John Bearrows said in the news release.


The cases linked to the facility include 19 in Ogle County, three in Whiteside County and two in Winnebago County, health officials said.


The health department said it made several attempts to control the outbreak before deciding closure was necessary. Those steps included isolation of positive cases, additional employee monitoring and quarantine of close contacts and household contacts. They also recommended additional testing and a voluntary two-week closure before the order was placed Friday.


"My team has spent countless hours in collaboration with Rochelle Foods in an attempt to mitigate the virus spread," Kyle Auman, Ogle County Health Department administrator, said in a news release. "Since these efforts were unsuccessful, it is my duty to order a complete closure of the facility."


Rochelle Foods said in a statement that they are working to further understand the closure order and consulting with their legal counsel to determine their next steps.


"We have decided to voluntarily close our facility to ensure a broader understanding of COVID-19 in the Rochelle community, Ogle County and the impact on our operations," the company said. "Rochelle Foods team members will continue to be paid during the closure."


Rochelle Foods employees who believe they have been exposed and are symptomatic should contact their health care provider for direction, the health department said.


Kevin Haas: khaas@rrstar.com; @KevinMHaas