JBS Greeley plant closed indefinitely amid coronavirus outbreak
Update: Monday afternoon, JBS announced the Greeley facility would remain closed through April 24.
After dozens of employees tested positive and at least two have died from the new coronavirus, Colorado's governor announced Greeley's JBS meat packaging plant will remain closed indefinitely.
A public health order issued Friday required the Weld County plant to close immediately through April 15 to meet specific requirements outlined by the state and county health departments. During the closure, the plant was set to be cleaned and testing protocol put in place to test all employees.
JBS announced Monday afternoon they plan to close the Greeley facility through April 24, and the company said they will continue to pay employees during the plant's closure.
“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,” JBS USA CEO Andre Nogueira said in the news release. “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.”
Gov. Jared Polis said during Monday's news conference there is not a specific timeline for when JBS will fully reopen the Greeley plant — just whenever it is safe for employees again, "whether that's two days or two weeks."
"We hope it's days," Polis said. "We have to make sure that people are tested and safe, and that they're able to go back to work."
Polis said he spoke with Vice President Mike Pence three times over the weekend about the outbreak and has recruited the Colorado National Guard to support the testing of JBS workers.
The keys to reopening the Greeley plant are the same as what it will take to reopen the rest of the state economy, Polis said: mass testing, containment, stopping those who are sick from coming to work and providing proper personal protective equipment.
Criteria JBS must meet before reopening as set by state and county health officials include:
- Create protocols and conduct employee testing for the virus and ongoing screening for employees when the facility reopens.
- Identify workers who were or were not exposed to know who may be permitted to work after the closure period.
- Implement social distancing policies and public health reporting procedures for employees.
- Provide adequate access to personal protective equipment.
JBS must plan to reopen with reduced staffing to ensure social distancing can be achieved and continue to work with county and state health departments to ensure worker safety.
Polis said he has asked JBS to work with the Colorado Department of Labor and Enforcement to provide assistance to employees impacted by these measures.
In the meantime, Polis said a limited number of staff will continue working while wearing personal protective equipment, "but not in production capacity until we can work hard to make it reopen as soon as possible."
Polis said the goal is to have as little disruption to the national food supply as possible while ensuring the safety of workers and the Weld County community.
The governor added that they didn't have any reason to believe there is a risk to consumers due to the outbreak.
With 808 cases, Weld County has the fourth-highest number of cases per county in the state, behind Arapahoe, Denver and Jefferson counties, according to state data released Monday.
To continue supporting the Weld County community, JBS announced several initiatives in addition to closing the plant through April 24:
- Fund the purchase of personal protective equipment for Weld County essential workers and first responders.
- Provide funding for antibody testing for first responders.
- Donate $90,000 to the Greeley Personal Isolation Facility to house patients recovering from COVID-19 outside hospitals.
- Purchase 1,000 COVID-19 test kits for low-income and uninsured Weld County residents, in addition to the previously announced donation of $1 million in test kits.
- Donate $50,000 to the United Way of Weld County for the production of masks and other COVID-19 relief efforts.
- Donate $100,000 to the Weld County Food Bank.
State tracking new pieces of coronavirus data
Polis announced new totals for coronavirus patients in the state Monday afternoon, including that Colorado has surpassed 300 deaths due to the virus:
- 7,684 cases
- 1,472 hospitalized
- 304 deaths
The state will also start to release data in two new areas: coronavirus testing, hospitalization and death data broken up by race, and data on hospital discharges.
Polis said that information had not initially been reported to the state, but they've been working with hospitals and county health departments to find ways to reliably track this information.
Polis asks kids to design homemade face masks
Showing off his plain white face mask in Monday's news conference, Polis announced the Colorado Face Mask Design Challenge.
The challenge is aimed at getting children involved in the public health advisement to wear face masks while in public, Polis said. The hope is having children design masks will help children feel more comfortable wearing masks and seeing other people in public wearing masks.
People can visit coloradomaskcontest.org to see the guidelines, a mask template and submission form. Designs can be submitted via the submission form or via email to OEDIT_CreativeIndustries@state.co.us with the submission form attached.
Some of the submitted designs will be featured on Polis's Facebook page, and a select few will be printed on real face masks produced by Colorado companies and donated.
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Sady Swanson covers crime, courts, public safety and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support our work and local journalism with a digital subscription at Coloradoan.com/subscribe.