SALT LAKE CITY — Three meat processing plants on the Wasatch Front have voluntarily and temporarily shut down amid recent outbreaks of COVID-19 among employees.
But the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food says Utahns shouldn’t be alarmed — there’s plenty of meat to go around.
Each facility — including two small family-owned outfits in Payson and Draper and a larger one in Box Elder County — has taken precautions to ensure that employees and the product are protected and should be back up and running within the next 10 days, said Bradie Jill Jones, spokeswoman for the agriculture department, said.
“They have been monitoring it and implementing workplace safety measures, working with their local health departments,” she said. “They have not let it reach the point where intervention was needed.”
She did not release the names of the small businesses that are temporarily closed and said officials do not expect the closure of the three plants to have an impact on supply, as “there are still plenty of processors contributing to the local food chain.”
Another 407 cases of COVID-19 were announced by the Utah Department of Health on Wednesday, bringing the total number of people known to have been infected by the novel coronavirus to 15,344 since mid-March.
“The risk of being exposed to COVID-19 is higher than ever in Utah,” Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, said during a Wednesday briefing.
“So I’m urging you to limit the number of close contacts you have by practicing social distancing, wearing a face coverings when you’re in public places, practicing good hand hygiene and staying home when you’re ill, no matter how mild the symptoms,” she said.
COVID-19 cases have been increasing daily for the past three weeks, Dunn said, adding that new cases have numbered over 200 every day. The state is still testing nearly 3,000 people a day and has averaged a 7.9% positivity rate in the last week, she said, down from over 10% in previous weeks.
Dunn said the state has not yet been successful in flattening the curve of infections and it is still strongly recommended that everyone wear a mask when going out in public.
“There is an expectation that people will do what is right and wear a face covering when it is needed,” she said. “Wearing a mask really shows you care about your community and you really want to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said it is akin to wearing a seat belt. “It does reduce the risk.”
He is concerned with the rising rates of infection and said he would consider imposing more restrictions and closing businesses, if needed.
The health department reported four new deaths associated with COVID-19 on Wednesday, including a man between 65 and 84 years living in a long-term care facility in Salt Lake County; a man and a woman, both between age 65 and 84 and both hospitalized at the time of their deaths. Another man between age 18 and 60, with a history of comorbidities, was reported to have died in Garfield County in southwestern Utah.
The number of Utahns who have died with COVID-19 is now 149.
Dunn said only a handful of positive cases are tied to the smaller meat processing facilities, though cases associated with the JBS plant in Hyrum, Cache County, have spread into the surrounding community on a larger scale, which the health department is monitoring.
The biggest concern of the agriculture department is the safety and well-being of people recently infected while working or coming in contact with people working at the plants. Early detection and preventive measures have been key to dealing with the outbreaks.
The three plants that shut down are doing so to allow employees time to recover from their illness and some are opening on a more limited basis in order to continue processing animals already in their possession.
“We appreciate and stand behind meat processors in the state who have navigated the challenges of being an essential service through these difficult times,” said Commissioner Logan Wilde, head at the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. “I sincerely hope that consumers trust that their meat is safe and that it will continue to be readily available to them. We will continue to hold our industries to the highest level of safety and health, to see us through the end of these challenging times.”
The health, safety and vitality of the food supply chain is as strong as ever in the state and consumers should confidently know that there is plenty of safe and healthy meat available, the agency reported on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, Herbert introduced a newly updated version of the state’s economic recovery plan, Utah Leads Together 4.0, which outlines additional actions that aim to encourage consumer engagement with businesses that follow public health guidelines and invigorate the economy.
“Our best days are ahead of us,” Herbert said. “I’m hopeful and optimistic. ... We cannot fail.”
The latest breakdown of Utah cases, hospitalizations and deaths by health district:
- Salt Lake County, 7,809; 622 hospitalized; 99 deaths.
- Utah County, 2,766; 147 hospitalized; 19 deaths.
- Bear River (Box Elder, Cache, Rich), 1,096; 37 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
- Southwest Utah, 889; 69 hospitalized; 8 deaths.
- Davis County, 715; 63 hospitalized; 4 deaths.
- Weber-Morgan, 555; 54 hospitalized; 9 deaths.
- Summit County, 451; 41 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- San Juan County, 367; 36 hospitalized; 6 deaths.
- Wasatch County, 362; 17 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
- Tooele County, 181; 10 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Central Utah, 81; 5 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 33; 1 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Southeast Utah, 29; 0 hospitalized; 0 deaths.