Meatpacking company JBS USA Holdings Inc. said it has removed hundreds of at-risk workers from a Colorado beef plant in response to rising Covid-19 infections, as the U.S. meat industry seeks to defend itself against the pandemic’s current surge.
JBS’s move comes as the largest U.S. beef processor faces a fresh Covid-19 outbreak in Greeley, Colo., where the company maintains a beef plant that employs about 3,500 people, making it one of the country’s largest.
U.S. meatpackers are shoring up defenses to keep Covid-19 out of plants that collectively employ hundreds of thousands of workers, supplying meat to fast-food chains and supermarkets. Rapidly spreading infections associated with U.S. meatpacking plants last spring killed dozens of workers, forced widespread shutdowns and led to shortages in some meat products, while backing up livestock on farms.
JBS on Nov. 7 removed 202 Greeley plant workers considered vulnerable to the coronavirus due to age and other factors, a JBS spokesman said. Those workers are getting full pay and benefits and can return to work after community-infection rates decrease, he said. The step has had marginal effect on the plant’s beef production, according to the company.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has reported 32 infections among workers at the plant, classifying it as an outbreak on Nov. 17. The department separately has counted 46 positive cases among workers at JBS’s corporate offices in another outbreak dated to Oct. 19. Weld County, where the plant is located, has reported an average of 235 positive cases over the past week, according to county health-department data.