GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4)– Gov. Jared Polis talked with Vice President Mike Pence three times over the weekend in regards to the coronavirus outbreak at the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley. Three workers have died from COVID-19 and at least 30 others have tested positive for the coronavirus.
“JBS is closing the plant for a time,” Polis announced on Monday afternoon during a news conference from the Governor’s Mansion in Denver.
The plant will close while employees are tested and the plant is cleaned. Polis said then the plant will reopen April 24 on a limited basis with a limited number of employees. JBS said it will pay its employees during the closure.
“JBS is committed to keeping their employees safe,” said Polis.
The plan was to test all 6,000 employees, but that has been postponed.
Some employees have accused the company of a failure to act quickly and transparently during a pandemic.
“I’m kind of mad about the situation because they didn’t respond fast enough or good enough in the time that this has happened or any of us wouldn’t be in this situation,” said one employee who has tested positive for the virus and wishes to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job.
“JBS is working with Weld County Public Health designing an aggressive containment strategy,” said Polis.
Polis said that the JBS plant is part of an outbreak in Weld County, with 740 cases as of Monday afternoon. Over the weekend, that county surpassed Denver in the number of deaths from coronavirus.
“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 Andre Nogueira, JBS USA CEO, in a statement. “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.”
“There is an outbreak there and our priority is to restore this critical part of our national food security, as quickly as possible, as soon as we can confirm that the employees are safe,” said Polis.
Colorado health officials report 7,691 confirmed cases in the state and 308 deaths. Since the outbreak began, nearly 1,500 people have been hospitalized. The state is also reporting coronavirus outbreaks at 72 residential and non-hospital health care facilities.
Last Friday, the company announced it would partner with the White House and the state of Colorado to deep clean the facility, do more to promote social distancing and secure employee testing.
JBS also announced that it will “provide funding to replenish personal protective equipment (PPE) for first responders and essential city workers, including protective suits for Greeley fire, police and transit officials; provide funding for antibody testing for first responders; and donate $90,000 to the Greeley Personal Isolation Facility to house recovering COVID patients and free up critical hospital space for critically ill individuals.”
The company said it will also purchase and provide up to 1,000 COVID-19 test kits for low-income and uninsured local Weld County residents who require testing. Instead of testing its staff, JBS said it will take more aggressive action and self-quarantine Greeley beef employees until the plant reopens.
JBS will donate $50,000 to the United Way of Weld County to support the production of masks and other COVID-19 relief efforts.
At the news conference, the governor also reiterated the stay at home order extension through April 26 and to wear masks when going out.
“People need to stay home whenever they can, and when you do go out it makes a big difference, a big difference if you wear a mask,” said Polis.