Coronavirus Death Toll Among Colorado Meatpacking Workers Rises To 5

JBS Greeley Beef Plant
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The JBS Greeley Beef Plant on Friday April 3, 2020.

The number of workers who have died due to COVID-19 at the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley has grown to four, and a fifth meat worker at a Cargill facility in Fort Morgan has also died of the disease, according to newly released state data.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment on Wednesday began offering weekly updates on outbreaks of the coronavirus in factories, correctional facilities and elder care and rehab facilities.

The data released Wednesday afternoon said that 102 employees at the JBS plant in Greeley have now tested positive for COVID-19, while four have died of the disease. Previously, two were known to have died from the disease and 14 were said to have been hospitalized.

On Monday, after state and Weld County public health officials issued orders closing the plant, JBS said it would remain closed for two weeks, after winding down operations Tuesday and Wednesday. No one could be reached for comment at the plant Wednesday evening, and the JBS Facebook page for the Greeley plant, where statements are often posted, contained no mention of the additional deaths.

Representatives of JBS did not immediately return an email and phone call seeking comment Wednesday evening.

Kim Cordova, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7 said that three of the dead were union members. The third man was Tibursio Rivera Lopez, 69, who died on April 10, but was not confirmed as a COVID-19 victim until this week.

Saul Sanchez, 78, and Eduardo Conchas de la Cruz, 60, had previously been reported to have died after contracting COVID-19.

The fourth victim was not identified by the state, but is believed to have been a supervisor at the plant.

Cordova said the state’s report of 102 positive tests from the 6,000-employee plant likely vastly understates the actual number of infections, based on her conversations with workers and families.

“It’s really a lot higher than that,” Cordova said.

The plant will be disinfected over the next two weeks. Meanwhile, workers will continue to be paid, Cordova said, though her union still has disagreements with JBS about whether those who called out of work sick in the last two months will have to forfeit some of that pay.

Cargill, which operates a plant in Fort Morgan, had previously acknowledged that some workers at the plant had tested positive for COVID-19, but Wednesday’s release from the state had the first known mention of a death among workers there.

Additionally, 15 Cargill workers in Fort Morgan have tested positive, while three others are listed as “probable” for having the coronavirus without testing positive.

Representatives of Cargill also did not immediately return an email sent to their corporate office seeking comment.

Cordova, who does not represent workers at the Cargill plant, nonetheless said she knows there is considerable traffic between the two plants among floor workers, as well as ancillary workers like U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors, security guards, maintenance workers and others.