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Beef plant to close for tests, cleaning over COVID concerns

Associated Press
In this Wednesday, April 8, 2020, photo, a truck bearing Weld County insignia sits outside the administrative office entrance at JBS USA in Greeley, Colo. Health officials are investigating working conditions at the beef plant in northern Colorado where dozens of employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Officials said concerns at the JBS USA facility in Greeley include the proximity of workers to each other and employees working while they are sick.

GREELEY, Colo. (AP) — A beef plant in northern Colorado where dozens of employees have tested positive for COVID-19 will be shut down through Tuesday for deep cleaning and to screen additional workers. 

Andre Nogueira, JBS USA's CEO, said in a statement released Friday that the company is paying more than $1 million for thousands of testing kits for workers at the Greeley plant. He said 36 employees have tested positive for the disease.

Weld County's health department said Thursday that concerns at the facility include the proximity of workers to each other and employees working while they are sick. If the plant does not comply with the county's public health order, it could be closed, but compliance is the "preferred solution," the statement said. 

Related:Virus closes some meat plants, raising fears of shortages

On Tuesday, Nogueira  told  The Greeley Tribune he was confident workers inside the plant were safe from the virus and strongly disputed claims by employees that people were going to work sick. 

Telephone and email messages to a company spokesman were not immediately returned Friday. JBS USA is a subsidiary of Brazil-based JBS S.A., one of the world's largest meat processors, and holds a majority interest in Pilgrim's Pride, the United States' second largest poultry company.

The first known plant employee to die from the virus, Saul Sanchez, died Tuesday night, according to his daughter, Beatriz Rangel. The company denied that Sanchez was at work while he was sick or that he contracted the virus while at work. 

Kim Cordova, president of the union that represents the workers, said another employee died Friday amid the outbreak, and 50 employees had tested positive. It wasn't immediately clear why Cordova's figures differed from Nogueira's. 

In this Wednesday, April 8, 2020, photo, a truck bearing Weld County insignia sits outside the administrative office entrance at JBS USA in Greeley, Colo. Health officials are investigating working conditions at the beef plant in northern Colorado where dozens of employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Officials said concerns at the JBS USA facility in Greeley include the proximity of workers to each other and employees working while they are sick.

Eduardo Conchas de la Cruz, 60, died after being taken off life support, according to his daughter-in-law, Diana Conchas.

Vice President Mike Pence said Friday he spoke to Gov. Jared Polis about the plant and was working to increase testing for the coronavirus. 

"There are some 14 people hospitalized. Maybe two to three hundred of the workforce have been impacted," he said. 

On Monday, about 830 employees did not report for work at the plant. But the company disputed their union's claim that the absences were in reaction to hearing that at least 10 workers had been confirmed to have COVID-19.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.