COVID-19 outbreak at Utah meatpacking plant killed worker, infected 441, report says


By: Sydney Glenn and Nate Carlisle, FOX 13 Salt Lake City (UT)

Oct 08, 2020


HYRUM, Utah — A new report shows the coronavirus outbreak at a meatpacking plant in northern Utah spread wider than the local health department has said.


Four hundred forty-one employees of the JBS Beef Plant in Hyrum tested positive for the virus as of June 16, according to an inspection report from the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division (OHSA). The Bear River Health Department had told The Salt Lake Tribune it was 385 workers infected.


The health department also said no deaths were linked to the outbreak. Yet the report from OSHA says: “One employee has passed away because of COVID-19.”


The report did not name the worker. The plant had 1,495 workers at the time of the inspection.


“The team member who passed away was a faithful employee and friend who worked at our Hyrum beef facility. Our deepest sympathies go out to the family and to everyone who has been impacted by COVID-19. The company provided life insurance plus additional compensation to the family,” Nikki Richardson, JBS spokesperson, said.


The main discrepancy in numbers is because cases are investigated based on where someone lives, not where they work. Therefore, there were several health departments investigating the outbreak, Caleb Harrison, Epidemiologist Bear River Health Dept., said.


“I think that when it comes to reporting the numbers that having Weber-Morgan and there were a couple of other local health departments that investigated JBS associated cases, that there could’ve been a more coordinated response and having all of the JBS associated cases reported at the same time,” he said.


There could be more done to help unify how outbreaks are reported, Harrison said.


“I think that is important for individuals who work in that company and for individuals who live in the surrounding areas to know their risk for contracting the virus. So, to have transparency and understanding those numbers is important. So, to be able to communicate the actual numbers based off of the location, rather than just the residents of each area,” he said.


When outbreaks cross health jurisdictions, the state health department keeps track, Tom Hudachko, Utah Department of Health spokesperson, said. Local health departments only keep track of resident’s cases.


“The most important thing about these outbreaks is not that every single agency that is involved is reporting the exact same number. The most important thing about these outbreaks is that they are caught, and they are addressed with public health intervention,” he said.


The JBS outbreak was one of the largest in Utah. Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Parish in Hyrum became a place people went for help during the trying time. The church handed out about 400 baskets of food and gave people tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of assistance.


“I first thought, how am I going to help all these people that are coming to us because we have no funds, but people have been so surprisingly generous,” Father Rogelio Felix said. People donated online from across the county and in-person to help those impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak.


“I was not afraid. I decided to start looking through the Facebook, the church website and the Facebook page and the response of the people was very good and quick,” Felix said.


The church is still finding ways to help even months after the initial outbreak.


“It’s not only the fact that they got sick with Covid, it’s everything that’s come after the fact with that,” Felix said.


Many people have gone back to work at JBS...