WORTHINGTON, Minn. (WCCO) — If Minnesota’s pandemic has an epicenter, you’ll find it in Nobles County, where mass testing shows a per capita infection rate of 4%.

City council member Chad Cummings operates four area radio stations. With main street hurting, his radio drive sold $135,000 in gift cards to local businesses.

“We’ve seen a definite change here in Worthington, especially over the last week and a half,” Chad Cummings says. “Everything that is vital to a small rural community is shut down and not functioning. But yet, in big stores, there’s no such thing as social distancing hardly.”

That’s also the challenge in getting the local JBS pork plant up and running again. The outbreak among workers represents at least 40% of the county’s 866 COVID-19 cases.

Father Jim Callahan at St. Mary’s Catholic Church says the fear is palpable. His parish serves the faith, food and medical needs of many of the plant’s immigrant workers.

“People are terrified, absolutely terrified,” Father Callahan said. “Not only have their incomes definitely gone down, and some have just stopped altogether, they’re making choices, do I buy my medication or put food on the table, or pay my rent?”

While the plant and the union look for ways to reopen safely, Father Callahan says parishioners will continue caring for the most vulnerable, as needs and numbers continue to grow.

Bill Hudson

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