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CDC responding after 287 coronavirus cases traced to Utah meat plant

Posted at 5:53 PM, Jun 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-08 20:55:50-04

HYRUM, Utah — Seven scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are coming to Cache County to help manage a large COVID-19 outbreak at a meat packing facility.

On Friday, the Utah Department of Health revealed one-third of the positive cases in Utah were tied to the plant.

The parking lot at the JBS meat packing facility held about a dozen vehicles Monday afternoon. Typically, it’s overflowing.

“It looks totally different. Normally, there are cars — this entire parking lot is full of cars normally, people are trying to find a spot,” said neighbor Jordan Nash.

An employee said many of them are out sick.

In the rural Cache County community, health experts traced 287 positive COVID-19 cases to the meat packing facility but suspect the number could be much higher.

“In a small town like this, everybody goes to the same gas station and the little grocery store,” said Nash.

Out of more than 1,000 employees tested, 28 percent came back positive during a large event held by the facility on May 30.

Bear River Health Department spokesman Josh Greer believes long shifts and tight spaces helped the novel coronavirus spread in the facility and out into the community.

“It’s incredible to think of all the people who could have been exposed to this,” said Greer.

This facility is among dozens of others that have become COVID-19 hot spots nationwide. A four-year employee, who asked to be called Serjio, said the facility is “really trying” to stop the spread.

“From an outsider's perspective, it looks like they have a lot of controls in place, yet we are still seeing a lot of sick people. It’s frustrating,” Greer said.

Five epidemiologists and two other scientists from the CDC will go to Cache Valley to help with contact tracing and testing for six weeks. The Utah National Guard and other health departments have also helped during the outbreak.

JBS responded to arequest for comment Monday with the following statement:

The health and safety of our team members remains our highest priority, and we have implemented a wide of range of measures to combat coronavirus in our Hyrum facility. We recently partnered with the Utah Department of Health to provide mandatory testing of our Hyrum workforce. We are following CDC guidance to quarantine all team members who have tested positive, the facility is operating at reduced capacity this week and we are conducting additional deep cleaning.

We coordinate with the local health department and public health officials to determine the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep the virus out of our facility. We are following all CDC and OSHA issued guidance around safety and social distancing, and we’re doing everything possible to provide a safe working environment for our team members who are providing food for us all during these unprecedented times.

Here are the preventive safety measures that have been put in place at the Hyrum facility.

· Temperature testing all team members prior to entering facilities, including the use of hands-free thermometers and thermal imaging testing technology;
· Providing extra personal protective equipment (PPE), including face shields and protective masks, which are required to be worn at all times;
· Conducting health screenings for anyone entering the facility;
· Increasing spacing in cafeterias, break and locker rooms, including dividers in common areas and on the production floor;
· Promoting physical distancing by staggering starts, shifts and breaks;
· 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;
· Hiring staff to assist with education, training and enforcement of COVID-19 preventive measures;
· Using ultraviolet (UV) germicidal air sanitation and plasma air technology to neutralize potential viruses in plant ventilation and air purification systems;
· 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;
· 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; and
· Restricting access to facilities and not allowing visitors.

This article was written by Hailey Higgins for KSTU.