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Ed Pilkington’s first month back at JBS has been a whirlwind. He’d recently been hired back on after a 10-year gap, but two weeks into his new position, he tested positive for COVID-19.

“We all heard about different cases that were popping up, people that were going home and testing positive,” he said. “I never thought I would get it, but I did.”

Pilkington, 62, works in maintenance — housed in a separate building from the rest of the plant — and with only five workers on each shift. 

“When he first started, we knew COVID was out there, we knew that there was a chance he could get it,” said his wife, Shellie Parker. “We are pretty healthy, so that's why we thought ‘Well, we’ll take our chances.’ And look what happened.”

He felt ready for a nap at any time. But because he never had a cough or fever, Pilkington went back to work after being tested. Then he started experiencing symptoms like nausea and congestion.

He said none of his team members tested positive after he got his results. But neither did his wife, who experienced all the same symptoms, especially the crushing fatigue.

“On Sunday, I laid down for a nap,” she said. “I slept for three hours, woke up, then two hours later — I think it was 6 at night — laid down again. I didn’t get up again till 6 o’clock the next morning.”

The next day she was tested, and while it came back negative, she and the family physician are convinced it was a false result. And like her husband, she didn’t have the fever or cough most businesses ask about before admitting employees back to work.

“Even though they check your temperature every morning when you walk into the plant, there's more symptoms than that,” Pilkington said. “I think a lot of people are working even though they might have a symptom or two, just because they need the money.”

Though Pilkington has been able to reach his supervisor to give updates, human resources has been a different story. When he calls them, the phone rings and rings and rings.

“I've heard there's a short-term disability, which is like 60% of your wages, but then we hear that you get 100% of your wages,” he said. “But we don't know. Nobody's ever answered that question. I guess we'll know tomorrow when we look at our back bank statement.”

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