Updated: May 06, 2020 01:27 PM
Created: May 06, 2020 01:17 PM
A portion of the JBS plant in Worthington reopened on Wednesday with limited staff after the facility was forced to shut down because of a coronavirus outbreak among its employees.
The "kill side" of the plant started operations on Wednesday, according to Matt Utecht, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 663, which represents JBS workers in Worthington. He said he expects the "cold side" of the plant to restart on Friday.
Utecht said about 130 workers were at JBS for their first shift on Wednesday. Roughly 2,000 people are employed at the plant.
The union president said when he toured the plant he observed physical 6-foot barriers between workers on the line; they're usually less than 2 feet apart.
"I was very pleased with what I saw," Utecht said.
The barriers are among other new safety guidelines being implemented at the plant. Some of those safety guidelines include:
The plant is within Nobles County, and according to the Minnesota Department of Health, the county had 1,069 positive cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday. That total is almost double the number of cases in Ramsey County, the second-most populous county in the state, which has had 583 confirmed cases so far.
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told KSTP Nobles County is doing well now but that she and her department will be monitoring this re-opening closely.
“We’re definitely learning, as the governor said, how quickly things can spread,” Malcolm said.
“Another thing I’d like to remind folks is we have a system in place if capacity does get constrained in [a] region,” Malcolm added. “There’s a backup system in place to help find the right level of care, intensive care needed for those patients if the region is tapped out.”
According to Utecht, JBS stopped euthanizing pigs on Tuesday. All hogs being slaughtered on Wednesday were set to be processed once more operations open up later this week.
He said JBS had a goal of slaughtering 12,000 pigs on Wednesday — that's about half of the plant's normal production.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order last week requiring meatpacking plants to remain open during the pandemic.
Over the past two weeks, extensive testing of plant workers has taken place. As of Monday, 490 workers at the Worthington plant had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the MDH.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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