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Coronavirus In Minnesota: Meatpacking Plants Taking Precautions After Sioux Falls Outbreak

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A major meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is closed over coronavirus concerns.

The South Dakota Department of Health confirmed more than 80 employees inside Smithfield Foods tested positive for COVID-19. They are now shutting down operations for three days.

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Matt Utecht is president of the United Food and Commercial Workers' Union Local 663. He represents about 2,000 workers at the JBS meatpacking facility in Worthington.

"In a perfect world, we could have six-foot distancing. But that's just not a possibility in a packing house like this," Utecht said.

He says the union and the company are putting worker safety first.

"We haven't had a single COVID-19 positive test come out of Worthington yet," Utecht said.

JBS meatpacking facility in Worthington
JBS meatpacking facility in Worthington (credit: CBS)

Workers on the processing lines wear face masks, face shields, gloves and overcoats. Break rooms are spaced for social distancing, and there are temperature checks before the start of every shift.

"There's been a handful of members that have had a low-grade fever that have been sent home," Utecht said.

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General Mills says workers are staying six-feet apart at manufacturing sites, adding that human and food safety are a top priority, and that plants are implementing temperature checks and encouraging the use of masks.

Cargill says it is prioritizing the health and safety of employees, offering temporary wage increases, bonuses and waiving co-pays for COVID-19 testing. The company is also temperature testing, sanitizing, prohibiting visitors and social distancing when possible.

"Keeping Minnesota and the United States fed is a critical element during this pandemic," Utecht said.

The Smithfield plant is set to reopen next Tuesday. The facility will be cleaned, and more physical barriers will be installed. The company will also pay employees for hours scheduled during the shutdown.

Officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration say there is no evidence of coronavirus being transmitted by food or its packaging.

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