State closes Greeley, Colo., JBS plant
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said JBS’s Greeley processing facility would be closed for “as long as it takes.”
Polis said he spoke to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence three times last weekend about protecting workers, the Weld County communities, and getting JBS, which he called a critical part of our food infrastructure, online sooner rather than later.
Polis said JBS is working with the governor’s office and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment about a plant-wide quarantine. The governor didn’t offer additional information about such a quarantine for the approximately 6,000 workers.
The plant will be cleaned during the closure.
“The way we can bring the plant back online is not unlike any other critical part of our economy,” he said. “It’s mass testing, containment, to make sure those that are sick are not coming to work, and providing protective equipment and masks to relevant employees and those who might have been exposed.”
Polis said he has no firsthand knowledge of JBS ignoring social distancing recommendations and putting workers at risk but said there is an outbreak at the plant. He said his priority is to “make sure we can restore this critical part of our national food security, which is also an important part of the livelihood of our ranchers as well as important to consumers, as quickly as possible, as quickly as we can to assure employees it is a safe environment to return to.”
Polis was clear that there is no evidence of risk to consumers in terms of food safety.
In an April 10 letter to Andre Nogueira, CEO of JBS SA, the CDPHA and Weld County formalized the conversations between the meat packing company, the governor, and public health officials about JBS’ voluntary closure of the plant. Public Health Order 20-25 ordered the immediate closure of the Greeley plant until April 15 at 5 a.m. for screening, testing and cleaning. JBS must take the ordered steps in addition to provide the Weld County and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment an “actionable and verifiable plan” prior to reopening.
According to the order, 43 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at the plant since March 25 among employees. Of the 43 cases, 14 cases have been hospitalized, eight have been intubated, and there have been three deaths.
The order, which has since been released, would have required sequestration housing in addition to testing, and other safety measures now in place.
Other plant closures include the JBS plant in Pennsylvania, National Beef’s Tama, Iowa, plant, Smithfield’s South Dakota pork plant, a slow down at Cargill’s High River, Alberta, beef plant, a closure at Greeley, Colo.’s Northern Beef, Tyson’s Columbus Junction, Iowa, pork plant.
In Nebraska, 10 workers at the Western Reserve beef processing facility in Hastings and one employee at a Fremont chicken plant have tested positive. Gov. Pete Ricketts said Monday (April 13) in a press briefing that he hasn’t received word of any Nebraska plants planning to close.
Though unrelated to COVID-19, Innovative Foods in Evans had a fire on April 17, further complicating meat processing. The federally inspected Evans plant processes beef, pork, lamb, goat and offers custom processing, private label, restaurant packages, and has a retail store. Further details have not yet been released. No employees were injured, according to a post by the company.
“The environment is very challenging to do social distancing in, but its absolutely important to keep our food processing facilities going because it’s vital we continue to have that strong supply chain here in the United States,” he said. “Here in Nebraska, we’re the beef state. We feed the world and it’s important to continue to do that.” ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 768-0024.
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