PLAINWELL, Mich. — Between April 1-17, the Allegan County Health Department received 21 messages from people concerned about the working conditions at the JBS beef plant on 11th Street, said the department's public health specialist Lindsay Maunz.
“We understood those people concerns,” said Maunz, who's also the public information officer. “Once we started hearing more, we knew we had to contact JBS and go on-site to see what measures were being taken and how we can keep workers safe.”
She said the Health Department immediately investigated the claims and announced Monday that 60 employees at JBS tested positive for the coronavirus.
Ten of those employees are from Allegan County, she said.
“There’s been unfortunately one death connected to the JBS facility,” Maunz said during an interview with FOX 17.
She said the death was not an Allegan County resident.
She added that JBS has 1300 employees at that facility and they’ve taken ‘extensive measures’ to keep their facility clean and sanitized.
“Our communicable disease investigator went on-site and when she went on-site she had to go through an infrared screening process to have her heat temperature taken,” Maunz said. “They have appropriate social-distancing measures in place on the lines in the cafeteria [and] sneeze guards in between work stations.”
There’s also sanitizing stations throughout the facility, she added.
FOX 17 spoke with Representative Fred Upton, who stated on his website that he reached out to JBS recently and commended their safety precautions.
Rep. Upton said in a Zoom interview with FOX 17 that JBS has given all their workers proper personal protection equipment and they’ve reduced their staff by 50 percent.
JBS also released a statement to FOX 17, which read in part:
"The U.S. government has identified the food supply as a critical infrastructure industry and has stated we have a special responsibility to maintain normal work schedules on behalf of the nation. We take this responsibility seriously and are doing our best to safely provide food to the nation during a challenging time. We will endeavor to keep our facilities open, but we will not operate a facility if we do not believe it is safe or if absenteeism levels result in our inability to safely operate. The health and safety of our team members remains our number one priority."
The statement also said that JBS implemented several measures, which included ‘removing vulnerable populations from facilities, offering full pay and benefits; requiring sick team members to stay home from work; and waiving short-term disability waiting periods.’
Maunz added that JBS has been compliant and cooperative since the investigation began. The Health Department has been working with the their human resources office in gathering additional information on the 10 employees from Allegan who tested positive for COVID-19.
She said the health department deemed it ‘crucial’ to begin ‘aggressive case-tracing' as soon as possible.
“The sooner and quicker we do our contact-tracing, the quicker we can get these individuals in quarantine and monitor their symptoms so they don’t unintentionally spread the virus,” Maunz said.