CACTUS, TX – The JBS Beef Meatpacking Plant located north of Amarillo has refused to test all of their employees for coronavirus even as the area experiences an increase in positive cases.
According to The Texas Tribune, the State of Texas offered to test all of the plant’s employees as a state response team has been facilitating testing in the Texas Panhandle. Governor Abbott created the response teams “to address local outbreaks like those occurring in nursing homes, prisons, and meatpacking plants.”
The response team has tested thousands of workers in a nearby plant, but the nearly 3,000 employees of JBS have mostly gone untested.
JBS Beef has stated they have “no plans to allow targeted testing of its mostly immigrant workforce.”
"We continue collaborating with local health and government officials," said Nikki Richardson, a company spokesperson.
"Given that the coronavirus is a community-wide issue, we would actively encourage our team members to participate in a community testing program, should one become available.”
At least one plant employee died after testing positive and several others are currently hospitalized.
The Panhandle currently has some of the highest infection rates across the state. Moore County currently has an average of 24.54 infections per 1,000 residents, 14 times higher than that of Harris County.
The Tyson Food Plant in Amarillo tested more than 3,500 workers last week with the help of the response team.
The rapidly growing cluster of cases has been identified by state health officials as having ties to the JBS plant. As of Monday, 323 people tested positive, nearly a 100 person increase from May 3rd.
Workers and family members that have tested positive for the virus told The Texas Tribune that “plant management was slow to acknowledge when workers began testing positive, and those who come in contact with the sick are not always informed of their exposure.”
Coronavirus has spread relatively quickly in meatpacking plants as workers typically stand shoulder to shoulder as they work on assembly lines, making it impossible to social distance. Many processing plants have ramped up health and safety precautions, including providing masks, eye protection, and adding plastic dividers in some areas.