As the COVID-19 crisis escalates in Minnesota's meat processing plants, Gov. Tim Walz will join Reps. Collin Peterson and Jim Hagedorn on a visit to pandemic-hit Worthington on Wednesday.
Nobles County is home to Minnesota's worst per-capita coronavirus outbreak, which has been tied to the massive JBS USA pork processing plant, with the county now reporting 477 confirmed cases of the virus.
JBS USA temporarily closed the plant more than a week ago, joining multiple other plants across the country struggling with coronavirus outbreaks. However, its current status is up in the air after President Donald Trump on Tuesday invoked the Defense Production Act compelling meat plants to stay open, and limiting their liabilities if workers get sick.
Gov. Walz will be at the plant at 1 p.m. alongside 1st District Rep. Hagedorn, and 7th District Rep. Peterson. It comes as the plant prepares to be used as a site for euthanizing hogs, with Minnesota currently short of processing capacity by between 100,000 and 200,000 hogs a week.
Walz's Health Commissioner, Jan Malcolm, called the president's order "problematic" and "counterintuitive" given the extent of the problems in some of the nation's meatpacking and processing plants, with the Minnesota Department of Health in the process of carrying out widespread testing of meat plant employees in an attempt to get a handle on the spread.
Elsewhere in Minnesota, Jennie-O Turkey has shuttered two of its facilities in Willmar amid outbreaks there, and it's also been confirmed by MDH that there are ongoing outbreaks at another Jennie-O plant in Melrose, where there are 4 cases, and at Pilgrim's Pride in Cold Spring, where there are 17. Both of these plants are still operational.
The Pilgrim's Pride plant, which processes poultry, was the site of an employee walkout late Monday, with the St. Cloud Times reporting 100 workers walked out, though the company says the number was closer to 20.
The workers told the newspaper they are raising safety concerns about work at the plant, saying there is insufficient cleaning of bathrooms, no communication from management about positive COVID-19 cases, and that those with symptoms are either still working or coming back to work within a few days.
The company in response said it has taken "extensive measures" to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among workers, and that while it will "endeavor to keep our facilities open to help feed the nation ... we will not operate a facility if we do not believe it is safe."