A meat packing plant in Colorado where dozens of employees have contracted the novel coronavirus is closed for a deep cleaning and all workers will be tested before they can return to their jobs, officials said Friday.
The union that represents 3,000 employees at the JBS plant in Greeley said in a letter to state, county and company officials that two of its members have died.
The union says at least 50 employees are infected with the virus; the company, which is headquartered in Greeley, put the number of JBS workers with Covid-19 at 36.
The company said it was spending $1 million on test kits.
Vice President Mike Pence told reporters Friday his task force is moving Covid testing resources to the plant.
“And I want to encourage people in Colorado that we will work to support that effort, but I also want to emphasize that all of the people that are working in food supply, from farmers to meatpackers to distributors to truckers to grocers, continue to have our gratitude,” Pence said.
Union president Kim C. Cordova said the plant should be shut down for seven days.
“We fully understand the seriousness of a plant closure and its economic impact. However, safety must take precedence over profits,” Cordova wrote in her letter. “One death is a tragedy – two deaths at the same plant is simply beyond human understanding.”
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis told CNN’s Erin Burnett the plant was closed and state government is working with federal and local officials to reopen next week.
“It will close long enough to test every worker and clear workers to return to work,” the governor told CNN. “Those that are cleared are going to return after a short closure, hopefully, next Wednesday, or Tuesday or Thursday,” he added.
When asked about the current numbers at the JBS facility, he said, “Judging from the figures about two deaths, about 14 hospitalized. I would estimate there’s probably between two or four hundred folks that will test positive. But we’ll see, it is anybody’s guess.”
The plant will be cleaned, according to JBS USA.
“The company will also use this opportunity to further enhance previously announced deep cleaning efforts at the facility,” a statement from the company reads.
Cordova said in her letter that not all employees have proper protective equipment. The company said additional PPE will be provided.
All employees will have their temperatures taken before work, JBS said.
While the company said there will be a deep cleaning of the plant every day, the union’s letter indicates it doesn’t think that will be enough,
“The access tunnel (which is 1,000 feet long) should be sanitized at least twice per day, ideally prior to shift changes,” the letter says. “At shift changes, this tunnel is accessed by an excess of 2,000 workers. The JBS plant has three shifts.”
The union also wants an additional $3 an hour for hazard pay.
JBS has also stopped operations at its beef plant in Souderton, Pennsylvania, for two weeks, with plans to reopen April 16. The company decided to close the facility after several members of the plant’s management team stopped going to work because they were experiencing flu-like symptoms, a company representative explained.