On April 10, a JBS meat packing plant in Greeley, Colo., temporarily closed to undergo a deep cleaning after dozens of employees contracted coronavirus, with two dead from the disease, according to CNN.
“We fully understand the seriousness of a plant closure and its economic impact. However, safety must take precedence over profits,” Kim C. Cordova, president of the union representing the workers, wrote in a letter to county and company officials. “One death is a tragedy—two deaths at the same plant is simply beyond human understanding.”
This is the second plant that JBS has closed as a result of the pandemic. Earlier this month, the company shut down a beef-processing plant in Souderton, Penn., for two weeks after complaints from employees. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, one worker from the plant died from respiratory failure brought on by the pandemic virus.
Both facilities are undergoing deep cleaning and sanitizing, and JBS is working on new policies regarding social distancing in an effort to make things safer for workers when they return.
JBS isn’t the only meat processor having problems with COVID-19 illnesses. According to Meat + Poultry, Tyson Foods has temporarily closed a pork production plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa after more than 24 employees tested positive for the disease. In a statement on its website, Tyson Foods’ CEO Noel White said the company was working hard to protect its team members during this ever-changing situation, while also ensuring it continues fulfilling the critical role of helping feed people across the country.
“Our meat and poultry plants are experiencing varying levels of production impact, due to the planned implementation of additional worker safety precautions and worker absenteeism,” he said. “For example, out of an abundance of caution, we have suspended operations at our Columbus Junction, Iowa, pork plant this week due to more than two dozen cases of COVID-19 involving team members at the facility. While these are challenging times, we remain committed to protecting our people while continuing to meet the needs of our customers and consumers across America.” The company is diverting the livestock supply originally scheduled for delivery to Columbus Junction to some of its other pork plants in the region.
Meanwhile, Tyson Foods has stepped up efforts to help prevent future infections. “We’ve been taking the temperature of workers at all of our locations before they enter company facilities. We’re mostly using temporal thermometers but at a few locations we’re beginning to implement infrared temperature scanners,” White said. “In addition, we’ve stepped up deep cleaning and sanitizing of our facilities, especially in employee breakrooms, locker rooms and other areas, to protect our team members. This additional cleaning sometimes requires suspending at least one day of production.”
Christopher Young, executive director of the American Association of Meat Processors, says that, normally, these actions would not have resulted in much impact on supply, but because the demand on meat and poultry during this pandemic has been so huge, these closures are expected to have a large impact. “There is an effect not only on supply but also on producers who have animals ready to go to processing and now they must find a new place to take them,” he says. y. “The supply chain starts with the birth of an animal and ends with the purchase of meat and poultry by consumers. So, anytime you take out a large processing plant in the middle of that chain, it is certainly going to impact supply in a negative way.”
Young believes there is concern in the industry that more companies could end up in the same situation as the threats of the coronavirus continue, but notes that most entities are implementing new procedures to protect against future infection. “Individual companies, as well as the industry as a whole, have done a good job in putting policies and procedures in place to try to mitigate the risk to their employees,” he says. “Many companies are screening employees and others who enter their plants on a daily basis, as well as trying to follow CDC guidelines for social distancing when they can.”