Union: 19 cases of COVID-19 at JBS pork plant in Worthington, Minnesota

The expanse of JBS pork processing plant sits at the northeast corner of Worthington, Minn., September 4, 2019. (Photo by Courtney Perry/For the Washington Post) (Courtney Perry/For the Washington Post/Getty Images / Getty Images)

There are now confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the JBS pork plant in Worthington, Minnesota—the largest pork production plant in the state. 

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 663, which represents the nearly 2,000 workers at the pork plant, says there are 19 reported cases of COVID-19 at the plant. 

At the Minnesota Department of Health’s daily press conference Friday, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said there are at least 30 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Worthington area. Friday evening, the Minnesota Department of Health confirmed there are 11 cases are related to the JBS pork plant. That number is expected to increase as more investigation is done, she said.

Gov. Tim Walz said some of the cases are family members of workers at the Smithfield Foods plant across the border in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which has become a hot spot for infections. The Smithfield Foods plant closed indefinitely Sunday after hundreds of workers tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The JBS pork plant in Worthington is still open. The union says JBS has already implemented new safety measures to keep workers safe amid the COVID-19 outbreak, including distributing personal protective equipment to workers, putting up plastic barriers between workers on the production line and taking the temperature of anyone who enters the plant to ensure they are not running a fever. 

The union is now calling on JBS to slow production speeds at the Worthington plant to allow for more social distancing on the line to keep workers safe. 

“At a time when schools and restaurants are being closed for the sake of public health, it defies logic to keep the people who make the food we all eat standing should to shoulder while they work,” UFCW Local 663 President Matt Utecht said in a statement. “This is an incredibly serious situation. If we don’t act now to slow line speeds at food processing plants in Minnesota it will be too late for too many people.”

MDH has sent four staff members to Worthington to work with the management at the plant.  

"We would love to avoid the situation where the only choice is widespread contamination and closure of the plant," Malcolm said. 

JBS USA statement

"JBS USA has had team members test positive for COVID-19 in some of our U.S. facilities. We are offering support to those team members and their families, and we hope they all make a full and speedy recovery. Out of respect for the families, we are not releasing further information.
"As our community collectively faces this challenge, we must work together to defeat coronavirus. We have implemented enhanced safety measures in our facility, but we cannot fight this battle alone. We urge our local businesses and community members to wear masks when at work or in public, and follow CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus in our community.
"Food is an essential need, and our team is working hard to keep food on local grocery store shelves at a time when many Americans are unemployed, out of work or sheltering in place. Every day, thousands of committed team members show up to the Worthington pork production facility to help our community and our nation face this crisis. We salute and thank them.
"We have implemented several enhanced health and safety measures at our facilities, including: 

  • Increasing sanitation and disinfection efforts, including whole facility deep-cleaning every day
  • Promoting physical distancing by staggering starts, shifts and breaks, and increasing spacing in cafeterias, break and locker rooms, including plexiglass dividers in key areas
  • Dedicating staff to continuously clean facilities
  • Temperature testing all team members prior to entering our facilities, including the use of hands-free thermometers and thermal imaging testing technology in many locations
  • Providing extra personal protective equipment (PPE), including protective masks to all team members that are required to be worn at all times
  • 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
  • Relaxing attendance policies so people don’t come to work sick
  • Providing free 100% preventative care to all team members enrolled in our health plan
  • Offering free LiveHealth Online services for team members enrolled in our health plan that allow for virtual doctor visits at no cost 

"We are committed to playing our part in seeing our community and our nation through this challenging time."