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Promises to test JBS employees in Greeley for COVID-19 from White House, management not kept

JBS meatpacking plant scheduled to reopen Friday
jbs meat plant.jpg
Posted at 8:44 PM, Apr 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-22 09:06:36-04

DENVER -- Contact7 Investigates has confirmed promises from the White House and JBS management to provide testing for employees at the massive meatpacking plant in Greeley have not been kept.

The information uncovered by Contact7 Investigates comes just three days before the plant is scheduled to reopen after it was forced to close on April 10.

The state of Colorado confirmed on Tuesday that at least 102 JBS employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Those numbers follow reports of four deaths of employees and sources have told Contact7 Investigates that two other employees are currently on ventilators fighting for their lives.

The outbreak at the JBS plant in Greeley went national on April 10 when Vice President Mike Pence discussed the concerns during a White House briefing.

“I spoke today with the Governor of Colorado, Jerod Polis, about an outbreak at a particular meat packing plant in the Colorado area, said Mike Pence during the news briefing. "The JBS plant in Greeley is one of the nations top producers of meat. It employs more than 6,000 people who speak more than 30 different languages and the facility slaughters about 5,400 cattle per day."

A full eleven days ago, the Vice President, speaking at a White House briefing, acknowledged the JBS outbreak and promised to help.

“Our team is working with the governor to ensure that we flow testing resources," Pence said.

On that very same day, JBS management issued a statement — it was the day the plant was shut down by state and county health directors siting the outbreak. The state of Colorado’s department of public health announced a two-week closure of the meatpacking plant demanding testing of all employees and sanitizing of the plant.

The statement from JBS management began with the headline, “COVID-19 TESTS FOR GREELEY BEEF TEAM MEMBERS.” The statement also included: “We are investing more than $1 million in COVID-19 testing kits for our team members.”

Now less than a week from the scheduled reopening of the plant, promises from the White House and JBS management have not been kept.

“We can only assume the reason they stopped testing is they don't want the numbers to come out, it’s bad PR,” said Sylvia Martinez, a spokesperson for Latinos Unidos of Greeley.

Multiple informed sources confirmed to Contact7 Investigates that JBS management stopped testing shortly after it started doing so on April 11 and well before its promise to test its 6,000 employees.

Insiders have told Contact7 Investigates that between 40% and 80% of managers/supervisors tested positive on the initial day of testing and those results prompted JBS to end the testing program.

“I believe when it became apparent that most of the supervisors tested positive JBS abruptly stopped the testing," said JBS Union President Kim Cordova.

Concerns by employees, community leaders and the union president were brought to Colorado Governor Jared Polis during his briefing on Monday. Contact7 Investigates specifically asked Governor Polis what he knows about the testing at JBS, why it stopped and if he had heard claims that as many as 80% of managers have tested positive for the new virus.

“I have not heard any figure like 80%,” said Polis. "I believe it's a very alarming number, but to be clear I've not heard anything like 80% positive."

Colorado’s governor also verbally called out JBS management during his Monday news briefing.

“I think JBS should show more transparency through this process," he said.

His challenge to JBS leadership could be a reference to the company’s decisions to not disclose testing numbers and for not announcing why testing has concluded.

Polis added, “We hope it can reopen soon -- as soon in a way that is safe for workers." He continued, “meaning testing and, of course, meaning that social distancing takes place."

Polis also made reference to the Vice President’s April 10 promise to provide testing support for the JBS Greeley meat plant.

“I actually reiterated to the Vice President when I met him in Colorado Springs (this past weekend at the Air Force Academy graduation) the other day, (that) we need to receive additional testing to be able to support the work of Weld County," the governor said.

With the JBS plant currently scheduled to reopen on Friday, community leaders and the president of the union are demanding more testing and more action from JBS management before the plant is allowed to reopen. Union President Cordova reacted to the governor’s statement that positive test results at the plant were at “alarming” levels.

“I am not surprised,” Cordova said. “It confirms everything we have been hearing. I believe that plant was very infected."

Contact7 Investigates also asked Sylvia Martinez, the spokesperson for Latinos Unidos of Greeley, if the JBS plant should reopen on April 24 as scheduled. She responded, “absolutely not.”

Contact7 Investigates reached out to the Colorado Department of Public Health, the Weld County Department of Public Health and JBS management trying to confirm if the plant will open as scheduled on Friday or if it will be delayed. All three did not respond to our request for information.