JBS USA has announced the "indefinite closure" of its pork processing plant in Worthington, Minnesota, following a COVID-19 outbreak.
The number of confirmed cases at the facility has been rising quickly this past week, and continued over the weekend, prompting the announcement that operations will wind down over the next two days.
The facility employs more than 2,000 people in Nobles County and processes 20,000 hogs per day.
“We don’t make this decision lightly,” said Bob Krebs, President of JBS USA Pork. “We recognize JBS Worthington is critical to local hog producers, the U.S. food supply and the many businesses that support the facility each and every day."
It comes just days after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said he had sent a Minnesota Department of Health team to the facility to limit the spread of the virus, and said that the facility would be staying open.
He cited a similar outbreak at Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, which has been linked to the Worthington outbreak as there is an overlap in workers and families who work at both facilities, and said the situation was different at the Minnesota plant.
"Smithfield went from nothing to shut down overnight. That's not case here," Walz said. "We have spoken, put a team down there to set up testing and ensure safe conditions across community."
The outbreak at JBS means that Nobles County is now the county with the most cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota on a per capita basis, outstripping Martin County which saw dozens of cases early on in the pandemic.
Having only had 2 cases confirmed by the MDH a week ago, the county now has 76 as of 4 p.m. Sunday.
JBS USA has said it will continue to pay its employees during the plant's closure, but nonetheless the closure of Minnesota's largest pork production facility is a blow for the state's food supply chain.
The Minnesota Department of Health told BMTN over the weekend it had received 20 positive COVID-19 tests from JBS employees, though that number is expected to have since risen.
"As we all learn more about coronavirus, it is clear that the disease is far more widespread across the U.S. and in our county than official estimates indicate based on limited testing," Krebs said.
"We have taken aggressive actions to keep coronavirus out of our plant and keep this critical infrastructure facility operational. It is our hope that Governor Walz’s effort to implement more widespread community testing will help all of us better understand the measures we must all take to stop its potential spread. We must work together to defeat this common enemy."