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Coronavirus In MN: JBS Pork Plant Worker Cautiously Optimistic About Reopening After Outbreak

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- After being closed for two weeks, the JBS facility in Worthington will bring back some of its workers Wednesday following an order to stay open by President Donald Trump.

The shutdown occurred after hundreds of employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Jony Mamo, a 12-year employee of the company, spent two days at the Worthington facility during the shutdown cleaning. He will return to work later this week.

"Last week I do two days of work. It was safe," Mamo said. "For me it's OK, it's good. But sick people they go? Then it's no good again. The same problems happen again, you know? But if the negative people go they start working? It's better. They have safety to protect them."

Other meat processing facilities hit hard by COVID-19 are slowly coming online as well. A testing site has been set up for workers at the Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. More than 800 employees at that plant tested positive. After being closed for more than two weeks, some workers returned to the plant Monday, though the facility is not operational yet.

READ MORE: Gov. Walz, Congressmen Visit Worthington To Talk Safe Reopening Of Pork Plant

"I know like three or four friends that got COVID. Among them they say they don't want to go [to work] now," Mamo said.

He has managed to stay healthy despite the outbreak, and he feels safe with the measures put in place by JBS. But he admits that COVID-19 can be an invisible enemy, and that is concerning.

"It transfers easily, you know," he said "It's too hard, too scary."

The union representing many of the JBS employees, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 663, says 150 employees will be working per shift Wednesday. It's normally three to four times that.

The union tells WCCO social distancing is the biggest hurdle to returning, but reduced staffing helps.

The Minnesota Department of Health gave this statement to WCCO Tuesday night about the reopening:

We are concerned with the high rate of infection in Nobles county. As businesses reopen it is critical that workers are going back into environments that are safe and conform to CDC guidelines. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), along with other state agencies, have been advised of JBS' re-opening plans. JBS has shared with UFCW 663 and state agencies its plan to reopen, which conforms to CDC guidelines. As with all businesses as they reopen, the key will be in the implementation of safe opening plans. The state will continue to monitor the situation at the plant and in the greater Worthington community going forward.

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