Per CBS News, Coronavirus infections in at least 17 meat processing plants across nine states are contributing to a spike in confirmed cases in the Midwest.
Although 13 plants are already closed temporarily or operating at reduced capacity, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds says shutting down plants would hurt farmers and the national food supply.
Adriana Diaz looks at the effect the pandemic has had on some of these facilities.
USAToday reports a rash of coronavirus outbreaks at dozens of meat packing plants across the nation is far more extensive than previously thought, according to an exclusive review of cases by USA TODAY and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.
And it could get worse. More than 150 of America’s largest meat processing plants operate in counties where the rate of coronavirus infection is already among the nation’s highest, based on the media outlets’ analysis of slaughterhouse locations and county-level COVID-19 infection rates.
These facilities represent more than 1 in 3 of the nation’s biggest beef, pork and poultry processing plants. Rates of infection around these plants are higher than those of 75% of other U.S. counties, the analysis found.
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And while experts say the industry has thus far maintained sufficient production despite infections in at least 2,200 workers at 48 plants, there are fears that the number of cases could continue to rise and that meat packing plants will become the next disaster zones.
“Initially our concern was long-term care facilities,” said Gary Anthone, Nebraska’s chief medical officer, in a Facebook Live video on Sunday. “If there’s one thing that might keep me up at night, it’s the meat processing plants and the manufacturing plants.”
As companies scramble to contain the outbreaks by closing more than a dozen U.S. plants so far — including a Smithfield pork plant in South Dakota that handles 5 percent of U.S. pork production — the crisis has raised the specter of mass meat shortages.
But experts say there’s little risk of a dwindling protein supply because, given the choice between worker safety and keeping meat on grocery shelves, the nation’s slaughterhouses will choose to produce food.
“If this goes on for a long time, there is a reality of a shortage,” said Joshua Specht, an assistant professor of history at the University of Notre Dame who studies the meat industry. “The politics of this could play out that they reopen at enormous risks to workers, rather than face an actual shortage… I wouldn’t bet against that.”
The meat packing industry was already notorious for poor working conditions even before the coronavirus pandemic. Meat and poultry employees have among the highest illness rates of all manufacturing employees and are less likely to report injuries and illness than any other type of worker, federal watchdog reports have found.