Cargill meatpacking plant in Fort Morgan scales back operations after coronavirus death, 18 cases

The Cargill meatpacking plant in Fort Morgan is scaling back operations to protect workers after one employee died from the novel coronavirus and as many as 18 others have contracted the COVID-19 respiratory disease.

Fifteen employees have tested positive for the virus, while three others are considered probable cases, according to data releasd Wednesday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The move comes as meatpacking plants have come under increased scrutiny after outbreaks have been reported in states around the country. In neighboring Weld County, the JBS meat plant was shut down for two weeks following an outbreak that has left four people dead and 102 others infected with COVID-19 — a dire situation that has drawn national attention and comments from President Donald Trump.

In a statement, Cargill Protein’s North America Lead Jon Nash said the company is reducing shifts at the plant in order to minimize COVID-19’s impact.

“We’ve taken extra steps to focus on safety and remain operational – including temporary wage increases, bonuses and waiving co-pays for COVID-19 testing,” Nash said. “We also implemented additional safety measures like temperature testing, enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, prohibiting visitors, adopting social distancing practices where possible and offering staggered breaks and shift flexibility. Our facility will be back to operating at full capacity as soon as is it is safe to do so.”

Cargill eliminated the second shift because so many workers were calling out, afraid to come to work, said Steve Vairma, principal executive officer at Teamster Local 455. By eliminating that shift, the company will be able to better clean the facility before workers come back, he said.

“Their representation has been that they’re putting safety ahead of profits and production and that seems to be the case,” Vairma said, noting a shipment of masks is on its way, as well as some of the other health guidelines the company is adopting. “They seem to be putting an effort on this, unlike some other facilities.”

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