Coronavirus cases force third JBS meat packing plant to close

The meat industry was warning of a shortage just last week

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Beef and pork processor JBS USA said Monday it will close a third facility because of coronavirus as the meat industry deals with virus clusters popping up at plants across the country.

JBS announced the "indefinite closure" of its Worthington, Minnesota, pork production plant after 20 employees and five of their family members tested positive for the virus, according to CBS 4. The plant employs 2,000 people, and workers will be paid during the closure.

CORONAVIRUS POPS UP AT MORE MEAT PROCESSING FACILITIES IN ILLINOIS, MINNESOTA, KANSAS

JBS has already closed its Greeley, Colorado, and Souderton, Pennsylvania, beef facilities because of the virus, although the Pennsylvania plant reopened Monday.

"We don't make this decision lightly," Bob Krebs, president of JBS USA Pork, said in a statement. "We recognize JBS Worthington is critical to local hog producers, the U.S. food supply and the many businesses that support the facility each and every day."

The expanse of JBS pork processing plant sits at the northeast corner of Worthington, Minn., September 4, 2019. (Photo by Courtney Perry/For the Washington Post)

The Worthington plant will "wind down operations over the next two days," JBS said.

Health officials report that more than 600 employees at a Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, have tested positive for coronavirus. The plant closed in mid-April, but many other meat processing plants in other states remain open (although with far fewer employee cases).

SMITHFIELD CORONAVIRUS SHUTDOWN CONCERNS SHORTAGE-WARY MEAT INDUSTRY

The concentration of cases has highlighted the particular susceptibility of meat processing workers, who stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the line and congregate in crowded locker rooms and cafeterias.

Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan warned of a pork shortage after government officials insisted the facility cease operations.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, April 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

"The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply," Sullivan said in a statement on April 12.

His statement came before the U.S. Department of Agriculture committed to buying $3 billion in produce, dairy and meat because of the pandemic after producers warned they would have to waste milk and poultry because of interruptions in the supply chain. The food will go to food banks and nonprofits.

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"It's affected all of agriculture," Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told "Mornings with Maria" on Thursday. "If we don't have the farmers and ranchers there to produce food, then there won't be full shelves in the fall."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.