JBS Closes pork plant in Worthington

Company, public health, scramble to contain spread among workers and community

In response to dozens of confirmed coronavirus cases among its workforce, JBS on Monday announced the indefinite closure of its Worthington plant.

It employs more than 2,000 Nobles County workers and processes 20,000 hogs per day.

“We don’t make this decision lightly,” said Bob Krebs, president of JBS USA Pork. “We recognize JBS Worthington is critical to local hog producers, the U.S. food supply and the many businesses that support the facility each and every day.”

After the first 16 cases were confirmed last week, Nobles County Commissioner Tom Johnson weighed in on community response.

“We are taking a united approach to this response by identifying people who are ill as quickly as possible, ensuring people get the medical care they need, and implementing additional screening and safety measures at the plant so it can continue to operate,” Johnson said Friday.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of the workers, their families and the community. It is important that everyone in the community continue to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The JBS facility began winding down operations earlier this week with a diminished staff to ensure existing product in the facility could be used to support the food supply.

Workers have been advised to follow stay-at-home orders until returning to work, and the company will continue to pay them during the plant closure.

Johnson released information to the public about the JBS outbreak but said Friday his office would no longer post numbers.

“The fact is, we are not a set of numbers. All these people are someone’s neighbor or friend or family, and this pandemic will affect us all in some way,” Johnson said.

“This is a time when we must pull together by staying apart as much as reasonable. The most powerful tool we have to change this trend is social distancing. Please do your part in changing your lifestyle for a short time so we can get through this with the least amount of difficulty.”

In the Monday press release, JBS said the company had taken aggressive actions to keep the virus out of its facility, but said, “This can be more challenging in communities where the virus has taken hold.”

The release mentioned challenges with human response.

“When COVID-19 is prevalent in the community, fear is heightened, absenteeism rises and the challenge of keeping the virus out becomes greater,” the release stated. “When absenteeism levels become too high, facilities cannot safely operate.”

JBS plants have implemented preventive measures, including:

•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 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.

•Restricting access to facilities and not allowing visitors.

JBS USA operates more than 60 meat, poultry and prepared foods facilities across the United States.

The Worthington pork production facility is the third JBS USA plant to temporarily close, joining the Souderton, Pennsylvania, beef production facility, which reopened on Monday, April 20, and the Greeley, Colorado, beef production facility, which remains closed.

JBS USA is a leading global food company providing diversified food products for sale to customers in approximately 100 countries on six continents.

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