A cow on the Flying B Bar Ranch in Strasburg, owned by Brad Buchanan, the chief executive officer of the National Western Center Authority which works to oversee day-to-day operations of the National Western facility. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Health officials are investigating working conditions at a beef plant in northern Colorado where more than 30 employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

Weld County’s health department said Thursday that concerns at the JBS USA facility include the proximity of workers to each other and employees working while they are sick. If the plant does not comply with the county’s public health order, the plant could be closed but compliance is the “preferred solution”, the statement said.


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“Conversations continue with JBS leadership to promote quick compliance,” it said.

On Tuesday, JBS USA CEO Andre Nogeuira told The Greeley Tribune he was confident workers inside the plant were safe from the virus and strongly disputed claims by employees that people were going to work sick.

A telephone and email message to a company spokesman was not immediately returned Friday. JBS USA is a subsidiary of Brazil-based JBS S.A., one of the world’s largest meat processors, and holds a majority interest in Pilgrim’s Pride, the United States’ second largest poultry company.

The first known plant employee to die from the virus, Saul Sanchez, died Tuesday night, according to his daughter, Beatriz Rangel. The company denied that Sanchez was at work while he was sick or that he contracted the virus while at work.

On Monday, at least around 830 employees did not report for work at the plant but the company disputed their union’s claim that the absences were in reaction to hearing that at least 10 workers had been confirmed to have COVID-19.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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