WORTHINGTON, Minn. — Saying it is not a decision the company takes lightly, JBS USA announced Monday that its Worthington pork processing plant will be closed indefinitely in an attempt to turn back an outbreak of COVID-19 that has impacted both the plant and the community.
“We have taken aggressive actions to keep coronavirus out of our plant and keep this critical infrastructure facility operational," said Bob Krebs, President of JBS USA Pork in a released statement. "It is our hope that Governor Walz’s effort to implement more widespread community testing will help all of us better understand the measures we must all take to stop its potential spread. We must work together to defeat this common enemy.”
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has confirmed that at least seven workers have tested positive for COVID-19. Nobles County, where the plant is located, had 76 lab-confirmed cases overall as of Monday, according to MDH.
JBS says the Worthington facility will wind down operations over the next two days with reduced staff to ensure existing pork product in the facility can be used to support the food supply. The company will advise its more-than 2,000 Worthington employees to follow Governor Walz’s Stay at Home order until the decision is made to reopen the plant.
The company says it will continue to pay its team members during the plant closure.
"Because there are a lot of hog producers that bring their hogs here to JBS for processing," said Leah Ward, reporter for The Globe newspaper in Worthington. "JBS is such a huge nationwide and global meat producer that there's still a chance it could affect our economy."
Ward has been covering the meatpacking plant for The Globe newspaper in Worthington and has talked with plant workers.
"They were saying, we appreciate JBS is doing a lot of stuff to take care of us, but we're just still worried," Ward said.
That, after an outbreak last week at the Smithfield meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls just one hour away.
"There are a lot of employees that work at both places. So there was bound to be a little bit of intersect there," Ward said.
State officials confirm interaction between the plants. They're working with JBS Executives on what it would take to re-open the plant.
"The state of Minnesota did not shut down JBS. The virus shut down JBS. We want them to be up and running. The company wants them to be up and running, but not possible to do that in this situation," said Gov. Tim Walz.
A statement from JBS says when COVID-19 is prevalent in the community, as it increasingly is in Worthington, "fear is heightened, absenteeism rises and the challenge of keeping the virus out becomes greater. When absenteeism levels become too high, facilities cannot safely operate."
JBS USA maintains that the company has implemented changes and preventative measures in its 60 meat, poultry and prepared food plants across America in an attempt to keep COVID-19 out. Those changes include:
- Temperature testing all team members prior to entering facilities, including the use of hands-free thermometers and thermal imaging testing technology in all locations;
- Providing extra personal protective equipment (PPE), including protective masks, which are required to be worn at all times, to all team members;
- Promoting physical distancing by staggering starts, shifts and breaks, and increasing spacing in cafeterias, break and locker rooms, including plexiglass dividers in key areas;
- Increasing sanitation and disinfection efforts, including whole facility deep-cleaning every day;
- Hiring dedicated staff whose only job is to continuously clean facilities, including common areas beyond the production floor;
- Removing vulnerable populations from facilities, offering full pay and benefits;
- Requiring sick team members to stay home from work;
- Waiving short-term disability waiting periods;
- Relaxing attendance policies so people don’t come to work sick;
- Providing free 100% preventative care to all team members enrolled in the company’s health plan;
- Offering free LiveHealth Online services for team members enrolled in the company’s health plan that allow for virtual doctor visits at no cost;
- Educating and encouraging team members to practice social distancing at home and in the community outside of work; and
- Restricting access to facilities and not allowing visitors.
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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.