The Coronavirus Outbreaks In Meatpacking Plants Were Much Worse Than The Official Numbers Show

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Of the 45 JBS, Smithfield, Tyson, and Cargill facilities around the country that recorded at least 50 confirmed COVID-19 cases, only 20 ordered full-scale testing for all employees, according to a BuzzFeed News investigation.

. Around half of them were employed by JBS, Smithfield, Tyson, or Cargill, the four industry giants collectively responsible for more than 80% of the meat consumed in the US. At least 200 workers have died.

“The rate of increase among our workforce is not nearly at the rate we are seeing in the local community,” he said. But the plant still does not conduct facility-wide testing, leaving the full scope of the new outbreak uncertain. At Greeley, as at many plants across the country, an early outbreak wasn’t enough to spur universal testing protocols.

In Arkansas, seven meat processing plants owned by JBS, Tyson, or Cargill with at least 50 confirmed cases declined the state health department’s offer “to conduct testing on-site,” according to Danyelle McNeill, Arkansas Department of Health’s public information coordinator, and just two of those plants later arranged for all employees to be tested.

In all, that location logged a total of 312 confirmed cases as of mid-November, according to local health department data. Some plants of similar size that did facility-wide testing, such as Tyson’s pork processing operations in Waterloo, Iowa, andrecorded around 1,000 confirmed cases each — a testament to the way the contagious virus raced through the plants, sickening some and making many others asymptomatic carriers.

Though the state initially directed that all workers be tested before the plant reopened, officials retreated from the order. The state health department didn’t respond to questions about the reason for the shift. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, it noted that the two-week closure “provided quarantine or isolation time for employees who were exposed or sick.”

Employees could return once they were free from symptoms for 72 hours without having to get retested. While masks, face shields, fans, and plexiglass barriers have reduced exposure, at least 65 workers at the plant have tested positive in the months since it reopened, according to health department data.


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