WELD COUNTY, Colo. — A public health order issued for JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley says the facility must close for cleaning and to allow for employees to undergo screenings after health officials identified a COVID-19 outbreak at the plant.
The order, issued jointly on Saturday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment (WCDPHE), says JBS must close until 5 a.m. Wednesday, April 15 to complete the screening, testing and cleaning, as well as implement new safety procedures moving forward.
> The video above aired Friday after President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence commented on the JBS facility in Greeley.
Gov. Jared Polis in a news conference on Monday said JBS has had an outbreak of COVID-19 cases, and at least two employees at the plant have died.
Polis said all employees at the plant will be tested for COVID-19, and that the plant will undergo a thorough cleaning before it can be reopened.
Polis said he has spoken with Vice President Mike Pence three times recently about the plant and how they will go about handling testing. He also said Colorado National Guard members will be handling logistics on how to test the plant workers.
Following the order, JBS announced on its website the temporary closure of the beef production facility until April 24 as well as additional efforts to support the fight against coronavirus in Weld County.
"As the largest employer in the county with more than 6,000 team members, the company is focusing its efforts to help combat the spread of coronavirus," the statement says. "The Greeley beef facility will wind down operations over the next two days with a diminished staff to ensure existing product in the facility can be used to support food supply needs."
JBS said it will continue to pay its team members during the plant closure
“While the Greeley beef facility is critical to the U.S. food supply and local producers, the continued spread of coronavirus in Weld County requires decisive action,” CEO Andre Nogueira said. “As a leading member of this community, we believe we must do our part to support our local health professionals and first responders leading the fight against coronavirus.”
Polis said there is no direct evidence that consumers are at risk of contracting COVID-19 from meat that may have been handled by infected workers. Polis also said he's not worried that food supply lines will be affected by the plant's closure.
The Colorado beef industry – which includes the Colorado Livestock Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Colorado Beef Council – in response to the JBS closure, said while beef production continues, health and safety are a priority.
“While beef producers are committed to providing safe and abundant beef for families throughout Colorado, the nation, and the world, our first concern is ensuring the health and safety of Coloradans in stopping the spread of COVID-19. We were saddened to hear of the passing of two workers from the plant and our thoughts are with their families,” Colorado Cattlemen’s Association President Steve Wooten said.
Mike Veeman, Colorado Livestock Association president said consumers can be confident that adequate supplies of beef are available in their grocery store of choice. While consumers have recently experienced some products being sold out in stores, this was a result of a peak in consumer demand and supply chain disruptions.
JBS USA operates more than 60 meat, poultry and prepared foods facilities across the United States. The Greeley beef production facility is the second JBS USA plant to temporarily close, joining the Souderton, Pennsylvania beef production facility, the company's website says. The company has also experienced increased absenteeism in a few other plants but continues to operate the majority of its facilities across the country at or near capacity, in an effort to continue providing food for Americans.
JBS was given additional steps to complete as part of the health order:
Effective immediately no employee may be allowed to work while sick. In addition to directly communicating this to every employee, JBS must actively screen employees who present to the plant for work to exclude all of the following conditions that exclude an employee from eligibility to work:
- In previous 72 hours, presence of a cough, fever (defined as >100.0), or shortness of breath;
- In the previous 7 days, exposure to something with respiratory illness; and
- In previous 14 days, exposure to another person known to have COVID-19
In addition, each employee presenting for work at the plant must have a non-touch temperature taken. No employee may work if they exhibit a temperature > 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit.
Any employee with signs or symptoms of a respiratory illness must self-isolate at home. They may not return to work until they are afebrile without the use of temperature-lowering medications for at least 7 hours prior to returning to work. Their symptoms must also be gone or significantly improved. Each employee must receive education on self-isolation for respiratory illness.
Any employee who has been exposed to a test-positive COVID-19 person must self-quarantine at home for a period of not less than 14 days. During the quarantine period, they must monitor themselves for symptoms of cough, fever shortness of breath. Should they or any person in the household develop these or other respiratory symptoms, they should report this via telephone to their health care provider. They may not be allowed to return to work until not less than 14-day quarantine passes without the development of symptoms. If they develop symptoms, the person must be afebrile without the use of temperature-lowering for at least 72 hours prior to returning to work, their symptoms must also be gone or significantly improved, and at least seven days must have passed since the first day symptoms appeared.
JSB must notify each employee who has had a high-risk exposure to another employee who has tested positive for COVID-19 that they must self-quarantine for not less than 14 days from the last date of exposure to their fellow employee with COVID-19.
JBS must require six feet of space between each person working in any area of JBS plant in Greeley. If components of operations still require employees to work less than six-foot separation JBS mist notify WCDPHE of the specific safety measure taken to protect employees from exposure to airborne infections.
JBS must actively assist in a timely manner to WCDPHE and its representative in fulfilling legal responsibility to investigate cases on COVID-19 and issue isolation or quarantine letters to employees of JBS. WCDPHE will be conducting unannounced onsite inspections at the JBS plant in Greeley to monitor that you [or] your staff are complying with this order,
Be advised that failure of any of your company's officers and.or employees to comply with this order could result in penalties against them individually, including a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment in the Weld County Jail for up to one year.
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