GEORGIA (From news reports) -- The Georgia Pacific facility in Madison would remain closed until at least May 4 after eight employees tested positive for the coronavirus and one employee died from the highly contagious upper-respiratory disease. The plant has more than 100 employees self-quarantining after coming into contact with those who tested positive for COVID-19.
Fred Mills, 52, tragically succumbed to COVID-19 on April 22. Mills was a 32-year employee of Georgia Pacific, a dedicated deacon at New Enon Baptist Church, and best known locally as a star athlete during his years at Morgan County High School in the 1980s.
Mills was born and raised in Morgan County, graduating from Morgan County High School (MCHS) in 1986 with the reputation as the "best running back ever."
Longtime friend Reverend Robert Terrell, pastor at Union Springs Baptist Church in Rutledge, still marvels at Mills' athletic talent.
"He was a tremendous athlete. He could run the forty yard dash in 4.3 seconds. He was quick, he was fast. He was a great athlete and a great friend," said Terrell. "During our senior year, he was voted Mr. Football and I was voted Mr. Homecoming. We grew up together like brothers. He has left a loss and a vacancy in all of our hearts right now."
Madison Mayor Fred Perriman also knew Mills and mourned his passing.
"A great life cut short too soon," said Perriman. "I hate that it had to happen from the coronavirus from one of our local plants. I just hate that it happened to a good man so soon."
After Mills death from the coronavirus and the number of other employees testing positive for COVID-19 increasing, Georgia Pacific has decided to close until at least May 4.
According to spokesperson Rick Kimble, the Madison manufacturing plant is doing everything it can to mitigate the spread of the virus and ensure the safety of employees. While the plant is closed and more than 100 employees have been asked to self-quarantine, the company is conducting investigations to better understand the situation and how to move forward.
"Pursuant to guidance from the CDC and public health agencies, we have conducted an investigation of each of these cases to identify with whom these individuals may have had close contact in the workplace," said Kimble. "Based on our investigations, these cases do not all appear to be related to exposure at our facility. All COVID-19 protocols - as directed by the CDC and public health agencies - related to quarantining and cleaning have been followed."
Georgia Pacific, one of the world's leading manufacturing companies producing issue, pulp, packaging, building products and related chemicals, is deemed an essential business and has been operating during the pandemic, which has required non-essential businesses to close and citizens to shelter-in-place.
The Madison plant, one of the largest employers in Morgan County, has 440 full-time employees. According to Kimble, the first employee tested positive for the coronavirus on April 13. Two more tested positive by Friday, 17. And another two tested positive over the weekend.
Every time an employee tests positive, Georgia Pacific launches an investigation, interviewing the infected, to try and determine which areas and which employees the infected person has come into contact with at facility.
After the death of Mills, the Georgia Pacific took action to ensure the safety of the employees, says Kimble.
"The Madison Plywood management team decided to temporarily discontinue operations Thursday April 23.The present plan, subject to monitoring of conditions on the ground and further COVID-19-related issues, is to remain down until Monday, May 4," said Kimble.
Kimble noted that the company will remain flexible as new information comes out on how best to proceed with operations.
"The situation is fluid and we are in constant contact with the facility management and our employees to monitor the situation and modify as required," said Kimble. "We have reinforced the need to continue to social distance and follow CDC and public health related guidance while employees are on personal time and not at the facility."