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KUNC is here to keep you up-to-date on the news about COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — Colorado's response to its spread in our state and its impact on Coloradans.

Colorado Meatpackers Keep Facilities Running Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Luke Runyon
Global meatpacker JBS has its North American headquarters in Greeley, Colo.

Northern Colorado's meatpacking industry says its facilities will continue operating at full capacity during the coronavirus outbreak.

Meatpacker JBS USA, with its headquarters in Greeley, says it will keep the city's beef processing plant up and running as the state's number of COVID-19 cases rises.

The company also operates beef, pork and chicken processing plants across the country.

Cameron Bruett, a JBS USA spokesperson, said the company's plants have stepped up sanitation efforts and health checks for employees. Bruett didn't comment on whether or not they've seen a positive case of COVID-19 in their more than 77,000-person workforce in North America.

"The U.S. government has identified the food supply as a critical infrastructure industry and has stated we have a special responsibility to maintain normal work schedules on behalf of the nation," Bruett said. "We take this responsibility seriously."

State government officials have said they don't expect significant disruptions to food supplies during the outbreak.

"If a plant or region is 'offline' due to coronavirus, other plants likely will pick up some of that capacity," said Sarah Little, a spokesperson for the North American Meat Institute, a trade association for the country's largest meat companies. "It is impossible to predict, however, the scenarios for individual plants across the nation."

The layout and logistics of running a meat processing plant make social distancing difficult. In many facilities, workers stand in close quarters trimming cuts of meat along conveyor belts. A significant portion of the meatpacking workforce in the U.S. are first-generation immigrants and refugees.

"Members are looking at ways to distance employees from each other when possible," Little said. "Remember, where employees are working in close quarters they are wearing protective gear and are in a room that gets thoroughly sanitized."

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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