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Burley slaughterhouse closed by COVID-19

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BURLEY — Dozens of employees at yet another Idaho meatpacking facility have tested positive for COVID-19. It’s the latest in a string of meat and food processing facilities to experience large coronavirus outbreaks — mostly in the rural parts of the state.

At least 44 workers at Ida-Beef, a large slaughterhouse and meatpacking facility in Burley, have tested positive for coronavirus as of Tuesday, according to the South Central Public Health District. None of those employees have been hospitalized, and there have been no fatalities linked to the outbreak at the facility.

Ida-Beef is shut down until June 1 due to a “staffing shortage,” said health district spokeswoman Yvonne Humphrey. A representative from the South Central Public Health District visited the facility May 20 during testing to provide coronavirus education to Ida-Beef employees.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor confirmed the agency received and handled a complaint about COVID-related concerns at the Ida-Beef facility in Burley, but did not provide any further details.

Multiple attempts to reach Ida-Beef for comment on Friday and Tuesday were not answered. The company usually processes 200 cows a day, according to a May 15 article in the Times-News. In the story, operations manager Bill Gilger previously told the Times-News it had been “business as usual” at the facility.

In a interview with KMVT in Twin Falls, Ida-Beef CEO Allan Ward said the slaughterhouse is temporarily closed except for some essential duties. The first employee tested positive about two weeks ago, Ward told KMVT.

“There’s still things that we have to do, the cattle have to be fed and taken care of, the trucks have to be open. It’s a slaughterhouse and Trump mandated that the slaughterhouses stay open, but we chose to close ours to get everybody healthy,” Ward told KMVT. “We thought we’d give it 10 days plus the long weekend and get everybody healthy.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture briefly suspended the slaughterhouse in June 2019 after three botched slaughters in five months.

Several other food processing facilities and meatpacking plants in Idaho have briefly closed in response to coronavirus outbreaks among employees in recent weeks.

Dozens of workers at Rite Stuff Foods in Jerome and Fry Foods facilities in Weiser and Ontario, Oregon tested positive for COVID-19 in the month of May. More than 20 workers at CS Beef Packers in Kuna tested positive between March and the beginning of May, although no more had tested positive as of May 22.

Coronavirus cases in the Magic Valley region have spiked in the last week.

On Tuesday afternoon, the South Central Public Health district announced Cassia County — where Ida-Beef is based — was the fifth of its eight counties to have confirmed community spread. This means the district has confirmed at least one case of novel coronavirus with no out-of-state travel and no identified contact with another person with confirmed COVID-19.

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