Five months after it began, Colorado’s deadliest workplace COVID-19 outbreak was finally declared resolved Wednesday, but not before 291 workers were sickened and six died.
The outbreak, which began in April at Greeley’s JBS meatpacking plant, was one of the state’s largest, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. According to CDPHE, an outbreak is considered resolved after there have been no new cases for at least 28 days and the investigation into the outbreak is complete.
The plant’s removal from the outbreak list comes just as families of some of the JBS employees who died during the outbreak announced that their worker’s compensation claims were denied. According to lawyers consulted by Reuters, JBS denied the claims of at least three families, arguing that the employees’ COVID-19 infections were not work-related.
“We are disgusted, but not surprised, to hear that JBS has denied workers’ compensation to the families of our members who were infected with COVID-19 at the plant, six of whom died,” said Kim Cordova, the president of the local chapter of United Food & Commercial Workers, the union that represents 3,000 workers at the Greeley plant. "The basis of JBS’ claim that the employee’s COVID-19 infections were not work-related is a downright lie."
The denials show the complications workers claiming COVID-19-related compensation face. In worker’s compensation claims the burden of proof lies with the claimant. To win compensation, workers must show that they were exposed to the disease at work and not elsewhere. In areas of extensive community spread, proving exactly where someone contracted COVID-19 can be difficult.
JBS’s assertion that their worker’s COVID-19 infections were not work-related is at odds with a different determination by the federal government. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, fined JBS $15,615 on Sept. 11 for failing to adequately protect its employees from COVID-19.
JBS did not return requests for comment.
This is a developing story and will be updated.