What Happened When Health Officials Wanted to Close a Meatpacking Plant, but the Governor Said No

By Michael Grabell

On Tuesday, March 31, an emergency room doctor at the main hospital in Grand Island, Nebraska, sent an urgent email to the regional health department: “Numerous patients” from the JBS beef packing plant had tested positive for COVID-19. The plant, he feared, was becoming a coronavirus “hot spot.”

The town’s medical clinics were also reporting a rapid increase in cases among JBS workers. The next day, Dr. Rebecca Steinke, a family medicine doctor at one of the clinics, wrote to the department’s director: “Our message is really that JBS should shut down for 2 weeks and have a solid screening plan before re-opening.”

Teresa Anderson, the regional health director, immediately drafted a letter to the governor.

But during a conference call that Sunday, Gov. Pete Ricketts made it clear that the plant, which produces nearly 1 billion pounds of beef a year and is the town’s largest employer, would not be shut down.

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