NewsPoliticsThe Race


Meatpacking plants fight COVID-19 outbreaks as they continue to stay open

Posted at 3:00 PM, Jul 31, 2020

In a small town in Utah, life moves at a slower pace, and social distancing there is easy.

“I think it’s quiet,” said Kelton Wells. “I think it’s a beautiful valley and I just love it up here.”

Wells owns Keystone Cabinets, where he employs 12 people, including Ned Miller.

“I’ve lived here in the valley my whole life,” said Miller. “It’s fun because I can create what I consider works of art.”

In a flurry of dust and noise, solid pieces of wood transform, all while people keep their distance.

“We have a little bit better spacing here. We don’t have the close shoulder-to-shoulder contact that somebody would over there, Miller said as he motioned with his hand towards JBS Beef Plant.

“I feel bad for the people who work there.”

Meatpacking may be a world away from cabinetry, but in terms of distance, they are practically neighbors.

In June, COVID-19 swept through the facility, infecting nearly 300 of its workers, but the facility stayed open.

“Nobody was running around in panic, throwing picket signs up and wanting everybody to put a ‘C’ on their forehead down at the plant,” Miller said with a smile. “I didn’t get that type of a feeling for it.”

They still don’t.

“What comes will come and we’ll take it as it goes, I guess,” Well said with a shrug of the shoulders. “I don’t think a lot of people were super alarmed by it.”

In a town where everyone knows someone who works at the facility, there is a feeling of “life must go on.”

“I mean, we all got to survive. Our work has to get done so we do what we can to keep it going and keep people happy,” Wells said.

The CDC set up shop for weeks at the health department, making sure people in this community stayed safe and JBS stayed open.

“We’ve got a good plan going with JBS,” Josh Greer, with Bear River Health Department, said. “(JBS) has got great controls in place.”

The people in Hyrum, Utah are not alone.

JBS has had outbreaks at plants in Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and Wisconsin.

“I think people are just trying to do the best they can,” Wells said.

In Hyrum, the work will go on, whether it is with meat or with wood.

In a place where people come to escape the noise of city life, it is hard to escape the question on everyone’s minds.

“When will we return to normal and what is the new normal going to be?” Miller asked.