JBS USA has announced the indefinite closure of its Worthington, Minn., pork production facility. The facility employs more than 2,000 Nobles County team members and processes 20,000 hogs per day. Late last week state officials had announced that more than two dozen employees of the plant have tested positive for COVID-19.
"We don't make this decision lightly," says Bob Krebs, president of JBS USA Pork. "We recognize JBS Worthington is critical to local hog producers, the U.S. food supply and the many businesses that support the facility each and every day."
The Worthington pork facility will wind down operations over the next two days with a diminished staff to ensure existing product in the facility can be used to support the food supply. In partnership with the state of Minnesota and Nobles County, the company will advise its Worthington team members to follow Minnesota Governor Tim Walz's stay at home order until returning to work. The company will continue to pay its team members during the plant closure.
"As we all learn more about coronavirus, it is clear that the disease is far more widespread across the U.S. and in our county than official estimates indicate based on limited testing," Krebs says. "We have taken aggressive actions to keep coronavirus out of our plant and keep this critical infrastructure facility operational. It is our hope that Governor Walz's effort to implement more widespread community testing will help all of us better understand the measures we must all take to stop its potential spread. We must work together to defeat this common enemy."
To protect the health and safety of its workforce, the company focuses on keeping the virus out of its facilities. This can be more challenging in communities where the virus has taken hold. When COVID-19 is prevalent in the community, fear is heightened, absenteeism rises and the challenge of keeping the virus out becomes greater. When absenteeism levels become too high, facilities cannot safely operate.
The company is focused on providing the safest working environment possible for its team members who are providing food for America during these unprecedented times. JBS USA has implemented several preventive measures, including:
- Temperature testing all team members prior to entering facilities, including the use of hands-free thermometers and thermal imaging testing technology in all locations
- Providing extra personal protective equipment, including protective masks, which are required to be worn at all times, to all team members
- Promoting physical distancing by staggering starts, shifts and breaks, and increasing spacing in cafeterias, break and locker rooms, including plexiglass dividers in key areas
- 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
- Removing vulnerable populations from 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 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
- Restricting access to facilities and not allowing visitors
JBS USA operates more than 60 meat, poultry and prepared foods facilities across the United States. The Worthington pork production facility is the third JBS USA plant to temporarily close, joining the Souderton, Penn., beef production facility, which reopened on Monday, April 20, and the Greeley beef production facility which remains closed.