MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota Department of Health officials say there are 56 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nobles County — 20 are JBS workers at the Worthington plant and another five are family members of workers.

“They’re still scared, no doubt about it, there’s a lot of fear and anxiety amongst the workers,” said Matt Utecht, president of the united food and commercial workers’ union local 663.

Despite precautions, COVID-19 has made its way into this JBS pork processing facility in Worthington, Minnesota.

“This is a situation in which any spread in the community in Worthington or nobles is being amplified by a congregate type work setting,” said Kris Ehresmann, MDH director of infectious disease and epidemiology.

Utecht represents nearly 2,000 workers at the JBS facility.

“The ultimate goal is worker safety at the same time keeping that facility open so we can continue to have pork processed for the state of Minnesota,” Utecht said.

A day after the governor sent a task force to the plant to assist, testing and isolating workers with symptoms is the top priority.

“We did provide them with some additional swabs and things that they needed to be able to continue testing at the volume that this situation will demand,” Ehresmann said.

Most of the testing will be up to local medical professionals.

“They are offering drive through clinics for testing they have offered them this week and again this weekend,” Ehresmann said.

Nobles County is providing housing for people unable to isolate in their own homes. And JBS says they are removing vulnerable workers from the facility while still offering full pay and benefits.

All steps to keep the essential workers inside this plant healthy.

“That is going to be what determines whether this facility stays open for the long term or ends up in a shutdown situation,” Utecht said.

The plan for now is to keep the JBS facility open the challenge will be to balance worker safety with the demand to feed supply chains.

The MDH says the JBS plant has slowed some operations to allow for more distancing inside the facility.

Health officials are proactively reaching out to similar facilities in the state to share best practices to keep workers safe.

Erin Hassanzadeh

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