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Colorado meatpacking plant closed for coronavirus testing

Associated Press
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis makes a point during a news conference to update the state's efforts in battling the spread of the new coronavirus in the governor's mansion Monday, April 13, 2020, in Denver.

DENVER (AP) - A major meatpacking plant in Colorado will be closed until April 24 while its owner, JBS USA, works with state and federal authorities to arrange coronavirus testing for its 5,000 workers, sanitize the plant and adopt other measures to combat the virus after at least two workers died, the company said Monday.

JBS USA's announcement came after Gov. Jared Polis told reporters he had spoken to Vice President Mike Pence over the weekend and on Monday to arrange getting testing kits to the plant in Greeley. JBS USA had announced Friday it was closing the plant after the deaths.

"Our priority is to restore this critical part of our national food security," the governor said.

The company said in a statement that the plant will operate with diminished staff for two days to ship existing product. It said it's advising employees to stay at home while the plant is closed and that it will pay workers during the closure.

On Friday, CEO Andre Nogueira said the company was paying more than $1 million for thousands of testing kits for workers at the plant. 

Colorado Governor Jared Polis enters a news conference to update the state's efforts in battling the spread of the new coronavirus in the governor's mansion Monday, April 13, 2020, in Denver. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

Health authorities in Weld County, where the plant is located, said that at least 43 plant workers had tested positive, and that 14 of them were hospitalized. They have cited the close proximity of workers to each other and employees working while they were sick as factors in the outbreak.

In a public health order released Monday, the state and county public health departments told JBS USA to ensure continuing testing of all workers, social distancing within the plant, requiring workers who are ill and those they've been in contact with to stay home, and other measures not only to protect employees and their dependents but to avoid overwhelming area health care facilities.

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. It processes beef at the Greeley plant.

More than 300 people have died of the new coronavirus in Colorado, including at least 53 in Weld County.

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.