Meatpacking plants see spike in coronavirus outbreaks following Trump order: report

Meatpacking plants in the U.S. remain hot spots for coronavirus outbreaks in the wake of President TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE’s order declaring them essential businesses that must remain open.

Although meat production has rebounded since the order, the number of cases tied to such facilities has since increased by more than 100 percent to 20,400 infections across 216 plants in 33 states, according to an analysis by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

At least 74 meatpacking workers have died from the coronavirus, despite safety precautions such as temperature checks, plastic barriers and social distancing. Tyson Foods said in mid-April that it would install barriers and provide masks to all workers, but 24 of its facilities have since reported outbreaks, with two such outbreaks in Iowa sickening more than 800 workers. Only five of the company’s plants had outbreaks before the safety measures were announced.

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Smithfield Foods, meanwhile, added more hand-sanitizing stations and said it would ramp up cleaning and disinfection procedures after a Sioux Falls, S.D., facility reported an outbreak but since then has reported outbreaks at 11 plants.

In other cases, plants have reportedly remained open with no such protective measures. A federal meat inspector working in the Midwest told USA Today she has visited several plants where workers were not wearing masks even though some had recently tested positive for the virus.

“I’m thinking, ‘Wow, I don’t think I’m safe here,’ ” she told the newspaper. She added that after telling a supervisor about the conditions, she was still told she must continue working as long as she had a mask and that if she wished to stop performing her duties she would have to use vacation time or take unpaid leave.

“I shouldn’t be forced to not take pay or use my vacation, or take the chance of losing my life,” she told USA Today.

A USA Today analysis found that several counties that are home to at least one meatpacking plant, including Buena Vista County, Iowa; Beadle County, S.D.; Yell County, Ark.; and Titus County, Texas, saw their case counts more than double in the last two weeks.