Although nearly 300 workers at a local meatpacking plant have tested positive for COVID-19, local health officials’ hands are tied when it comes to regulating or shutting down the plant.
BRHD spokesperson Josh Greer said due to an April 28 executive order from Donald Trump declaring meatpacking an essential industry, only the U.S. Department of Agriculture may enforce closures or regulations upon them.
While BRHD would not confirm it, several sources have indicated to The Herald Journal that a large outbreak has occurred at JBS in Hyrum. The plant has not closed down but announced a modified schedule for the week with various departments not working on certain days, ramping back up to all shifts and departments working Friday. Several workers have told The Herald Journal that some workers were being told to work despite testing positive for the virus.
The health district reported 46 new lab-confirmed cases on Monday, following 24 new cases on Sunday. Only four of Monday’s new cases were in Box Elder County.
Friday and Saturday’s massive jumps of about 200 new cases each were due mostly to a testing clinic at a local meatpacking plant. According to Greer, the clinic performed 1,024 tests mainly on May 30. Of those, 287 came back positive. Investigators are still working to determine who those people may have exposed to the virus and test them. So while we may not see daily increases rivaling the counts of last Friday and Saturday, the numbers are expected to keep rising.
JBS workers have told The Herald Journal that after the testing clinic began May 30, employees were still expected to work until results started to come back about a week later. So even if an employee tested negative for COVID-19 at the clinic, it’s likely they continued to work alongside infected coworkers that week.
“There’s people that are just now getting symptoms regardless of their test results they received on Saturday,” a person familiar with the situation told The Herald Journal. “A lot of them are starting to feel sick now, because they’ve been exposed.”
And while the company is reportedly offering full pay and benefits to employees who tested positive, employees who tested negative or haven’t received results yet are only being paid for the two to four days they’re scheduled to work through Friday.
For weeks before the outbreak was confirmed in testing, JBS touted several COVID-19 precautions, including temperature checks for every worker at every shift, face masks and shields, and increased distance or plexiglass barriers between workers where feasible.
Other industries concerned about the virus may be encouraging workers to get tested, too, Greer said.
“I know a lot of other companies have been sending their employees in for testing, as well,” Greer said.
Statewide, there were 256 new confirmed cases on Monday, bringing the cumulative total to 12,322. Of those cases, the state considers 7,255 recovered. Those numbers come from nearly 243,000 tests performed.
In the state, 112 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 are currently hospitalized, and 918 people have been hospitalized with the disease over the course of the pandemic.