Dr. Niki Davis, a family medicine physician in Salt Lake City, talked about meatpacking plants as though she were a labor activist Thursday.

“They’re scared to go to work,” Davis said of meatpacking employees. “They’re forced to go to work in close quarters in unsanitary conditions.”

Davis was one of 11 people holding signs outside the Utah Capitol to lobby Gov. Gary Herbert to close meatpacking plants in the state. The protest was organized by members of the Washington-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The group contends meatpacking plants have contributed to too many coronavirus cases in Utah and across the United States. Even with no pandemic, the protesters don’t much like what’s produced at the plants.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Danielle Butler of Ogden joins a protest at the Utah Capitol. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is asking Gov. Gary Herbert to close meatpacking plants in the state to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, July 30, 2020.
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Sheral Schowe is a food and wine professional and educator who stood with the demonstrators holding a sign saying, “CHOLESTEROL IS NOT ESSENTIAL.”

“If we stopped eating meat,” she said, “it would greatly benefit our environment. It would benefit human health, and it would benefit the workers.”

An outbreak at the JBS Beef Plant in Hyrum infected at least 385 employees with COVID-19, according to the Bear River Health Department. There have been no reports of deaths from that outbreak.

There also have been infections at a Turkey plant in Sanpete County and meatpacking facilities in Payson and Draper, according to health officials. Nationwide, there have been thousands of infections tied to slaughterhouses.

Angie White, an epidemiologist with the Bear River Health Department, said earlier this month that JBS management came to her department as the pandemic was beginning to review plans to improve worker safety. When the outbreak occurred, JBS cooperated with providing contact information to trace who had been exposed and determine who needed to quarantine.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) The JBS Beef Plant in Hyrum, Thursday, June 18, 2020.
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Still, some advocates say employees have been frightened to return to the plant for fear of contracting the virus or spreading it to their families.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in April declaring meatpacking plants essential businesses that should remain open. Some lawyers have said that order isn’t binding upon state and local governments.