CACHE COUNTY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Over the weekend, health officials in Utah reported the state’s highest-yet daily increase in COVID-19 cases, partially due to an outbreak at a meatpacking facility in Cache County.
On Tuesday, ABC4 confirmed the location: a JBS facility in Hyrum, Utah where 287 workers have tested positive for COVID-19.
“The workplace conditions inside a slaughterhouse really are ideal for creating a breeding grounds for infectious disease. You have a lot of workers crammed into a tiny, indoor space, circulating air. They’re all in close quarters to each other, they’re all touching and sharing different surfaces, and animal parts the virus can easily live on, a lot of mucus membranes, so that’s why you see COVID outbreaks happening at slaughterhouses all around the country,” said Jeremy Beckham with Utah Animal Rights Coalition.
In April, President Trump signed an executive order that mandates meatpacking facilities stay open.
According to The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, there have been at least 23,500 coronavirus cases at meatpacking facilities across 33 states.
“When the meat industry packs employees in unsanitary and unsafe conditions in these slaughter houses, and puts them at risk of contracting COVID like we see here, those people are still members of our community. And they bring that virus out into the community, and that really affects us all,” said Beckham.
A JBS spokesperson emailed ABC4 a statement Tuesday afternoon.
The health and safety of our team members remains our highest priority, and we have implemented a wide of range of measures to combat coronavirus in our Hyrum facility. We recently partnered with the Utah Department of Health to provide mandatory testing of our Hyrum workforce. We are following CDC guidance to quarantine all team members who have tested positive, the facility is operating at reduced capacity this week and we are conducting additional deep cleaning.
We coordinate with the local health department and public health officials to determine the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep the virus out of our facility. We are following all CDC and OSHA issued guidance around safety and social distancing, and we’re doing everything possible to provide a safe working environment for our team members who are providing food for us all during these unprecedented times.
Here are the preventive safety measures the company says have been put in place at the Hyrum facility.
- Temperature testing all team members prior to entering facilities, including the use of hands-free thermometers and thermal imaging testing technology;
- Providing extra personal protective equipment (PPE), including face shields and protective masks, which are required to be worn at all times;
- Conducting health screenings for anyone entering the facility;
- Increasing spacing in cafeterias, break and locker rooms, including dividers in common areas and on the production floor;
- Promoting physical distancing by staggering starts, shifts and breaks;
- 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;
- Hiring staff to assist with education, training and enforcement of COVID-19 preventive measures;
- Using ultraviolet (UV) germicidal air sanitation and plasma air technology to neutralize potential viruses in plant ventilation and air purification systems;
- Removing vulnerable populations from our facilities, offering full pay and benefits;
- Requiring sick team members to stay home from work;
- Waiving short-term disability waiting periods;
- 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.