Thousands of Workers at Meat Plants Test Positive for COVID-19

Source: David Tadevosian - 123RF

The CDC reports that more than 4,900 workers at meat and poultry processing facilities across the country have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including 20 who died.

A pork processing plant in Guymon, Oklahoma is the latest to report that at least 116 employees at the plant, which is located in Texas County, have tested positive. The plant employs 2,700 people.

Last month, Tyson Foods closed its largest pork plant in the country, in Waterloo, Iowa, and Tyson says more closures are in the works across the country. In mid-April, a Smithfield plant in South Dakota was the nation’s worst hotspot for the coronavirus.

Tyson will resume limited operations today for its Walla Walla County, WA meat-packing plant. Worker advocates have been critical that Tyson did not take more preventive measures earlier this spring as the pandemic took hold in the region.

In Missouri, nearly 400 employees at a pork-processing plant have been diagnosed with coronavirus – though all are asymptomatic.

Triumph Foods had begun testing its asymptomatic employees late April, amid news of several plants nationwide closing. Missouri Governor, Mike Parson said in a news release Monday that all of those employees are currently in isolation.

According to a FOX News report, the CDC researchers cited risks including difficulties with physical distancing and hygiene and crowded living and transportation conditions.

They suggested enhanced disinfection and that workers get regular screening for the virus, more space from co-workers, and training materials in their native languages.

Many meatpacking employees are immigrants; a CDC report on Smithfield Foods’ outbreak in South Dakota found that employees there spoke about 40 different languages.

Union officials and other worker advocates have stressed the need for more protective gear and greater social distancing between workers, even if that means slower operations at meat-packing plants.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order last week requiring beef, pork, and poultry facilities to operate. The order came as several major meat producers face scrutiny nationwide over their handling of COVID-19.

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