GREELEY, Colo. (KDVR) — The meat packing plant home to the largest coronavirus outbreak in Weld County began testing all its workers for the virus Monday morning.
As of Monday, 280 JBS employees had tested positive for COVID-19. Seven had died.
Previously, JBS only provided free testing to workers who showed symptoms of COVID-19.
Union leaders had been demanding testing for asymptomatic workers as well.
“There are a large number of workers that are asymptomatic and they may be carrying the virus and they can spread that throughout the plant and the community, so we need daily testing for all of those workers,” said Kim Cordova, president of the UFCW/Local 7 union.
Due to limited test availability and capacity, JBS said team members cannot get tested more than once using the drive-thru option.
Cordova said the only way to keep the plant operating safely is to test workers every day.
“You can’t continue to run those operations without workers and they need to be healthy workers,” she said.
Kyle Brown is the Deputy of Mass Testing and Isolation Support for the Colorado COVID Innovation Response Team.
Brown said mass testing is key to controlling the spread of infection.
“Someone who tests negative today could come back and test positive tomorrow, especially in vulnerable populations,” he said.
No workplace is more vulnerable than a meat packing plant, where outbreaks nationwide have led to numerous shutdowns.
JBS is now providing surgical masks and conducting temperature checks on workers.
On April 10, it started paying employees age 65 and over to stay home because they’re considered vulnerable. On April 25, the age was lowered to 60 and older.
Cordova said the pandemic has been an argument for paid sick leave, something her members don’t currently enjoy.
“If they’re going to be forced to work and they become sick, they have to have the ability to have paid time off. Workers should not have to make a decision between financial devastation and risking their lives,” she said.
JBS workers who want to be tested can apply online through a company website.