Baldwin calls for Senate hearing on CDC response to meatpacking plant coronavirus outbreak
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) called on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to hold a hearing on the administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak at a Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant.
Baldwin, the top Democrat on the panel’s Employment and Workforce Safety Subcommittee, wrote a letter on Thursday to HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and others to request a hearing with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue and Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Eugene Scalia.
“We are now more than seven months into this fight, and we have yet to hold a hearing about the impact of this virus on workers. This is unacceptable, especially given the recent reporting and revelations regarding industry efforts to influence public health recommendations made by the CDC,” she wrote.
The HELP Committee held a hearing with Redfield in September, and Baldwin asked him about the CDC guidance for the Smithfield plant outbreak in Sioux Falls, S.D. Redfield told her he did not have contact with the USDA, Smithfield or the White House regarding a CDC report, which she said was watered down, addressing the outbreak.
At least 1,294 Smithfield workers contracted the coronavirus, and four employees died from it, during the outbreak in April.
CDC workers visited the plant and provided recommendations to reduce disease transmission. The recommendations were reportedly later withdrawn and watered down before a final version was released.
Redfield has also since said he did have conversations with USDA and DOL in April.
“Dr. Redfield defended the changes made to the report as edits to reflect that CDC is not a regulatory agency,” Baldwin wrote. “Recent reporting indicates that Dr. Redfield had an additional and previously undisclosed conversation about the CDC guidance for the Smithfield facility in question. A recent article in the New York Times reports that Dr. Redfield, at the direction of members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, including its chair Vice President Pence, altered the CDC report.”
Alexander’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.
Baldwin last week joined other Democrats, including Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the top Democrat on the HELP Committee, to call on Scalia to provide information on the agency’s involvement with recommendations from the CDC to the Smithfield plant.
The Democrats requested Scalia provide copies of all communications between the Labor Department and the CDC or Agriculture Department regarding a site visit to Smithfield, citing that Redfield has since said he was in contact with the agencies about the Smithfield outbreak following his previous comments that he had no contact.