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JBS tells 6,000 beef workers to self-quarantine

Meatpacker JBS USA said it will close its cattle slaughter plant in Greeley, Colorado, until April 24 while its 6,000 employees self-quarantine in an effort to eradicate a coronavirus outbreak in the community. Two JBS workers have died of COVID-19 and four dozen others have tested positive for the virus.

“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,” said chief executive Andre Nogueria on Monday. Nearly 740 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Weld County, which includes Greeley. JBS USA initially said it would test all of its workers for the coronavirus but then “decided to take more aggressive action and self-quarantine Greeley beef employees until plant reopening.”

Greeley is the second of JBS USA’s more than 60 U.S. facilities to close temporarily. The first was a beef plant in Souderton, Pennsylvania. In a statement, JBS USA said it has “experienced increased absenteeism in a few other plants, but continues to operate the majority of its facilities across the country at or near capacity.”

The coronavirus pandemic has slowed production or forced temporary closures at plants run by other processors. Among them are Smithfield Foods’ pork plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Cargill’s plant in Hazelton, Pennsylvania.

Smithfield announced the donation of more than 10 million pounds of protein worth more than $30 million to food banks across the country on Monday, the day after announcing the shutdown of the Sioux Falls plant. Smithfield said it was the largest donation in company history.

JBS USA closed the Greeley plant last weekend for deep cleaning and sanitization. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said the plant would be closed for two weeks. “Colorado’s beef industry is a critical part of our state’s economy, which is why we continue working closely with the Weld County public health department to ensure the safety of the JBS workers and get the plant open as soon as it is safe in order to protect the food supply,” said Polis on Monday.

Besides closing the plant, JBS USA said it would donate $90,000 to a Greeley facility for patients recuperating from COVID-19, $50,000 for production of masks for local residents and other coronavirus relief, and funds to replenish personal protective equipment for first responders in Greeley. The company also would pay for 1,000 kits to test low-income and uninsured local residents.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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