COVID-19: Meatpacking Facilities
As of September 8th, at least 42,805 meatpacking employees have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least 201 meatpacking facility workers have died. And, as of May 25th, in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota, coronavirus cases linked to meat plants account for 18, 20 and 29 percent of the states' total cases, respectively. In some meatpacking plants, such as a Seaboard Foods plant in Oklahoma and a Tyson Foods plant in North Carolina, a quarter of employees have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Meatpacking Facilities as Coronavirus Incubators
A thousand people might work a single eight-hour shift, standing shoulder to shoulder as carcasses whiz by on hooks or conveyor belts. Often, workers get only a second or two to complete their task before the next hunk of meat arrives. The frenzied pace and grueling physical demands of breaking down so many dead animals can make people breathe hard and have difficulty keeping masks properly positioned on their faces.
In addition to being unable to social distance when working shoulder-to-shoulder in production lines, many meatpacking employees are unable to social distance when they carpool or ride packed buses to and from the meatpacking plants (often 60 miles one way). A lawsuit against JBS meatpacking facilities charges that "JBS made social distancing impossible, forcing workers to use “cramped and crowded” work areas, break areas, bathrooms and hallways." Many meatpacking workers also report that they are allowed only a few breaks on their shifts, which means they can rarely wash their hands while on the job. Moreover, the cold temperatures and the way air circulates in meatpacking facilities are thought to contribute to the spread of the coronavirus. According to UC Davis chemical engineer, Sima Asadi, "low temperatures allow the virus to stay viable outside the body for longer, increasing the survival of the virus in the air."
Insufficient Protection of Meatpacking Workers
What's more is that many meatpacking employees report that they weren't provided with adequate personal protective equipment, such as face masks or gloves. When a Smithfield plant in Milan, Missouri finally provided their employees with face-masks, whistle-blowers reported that employees were given one mask to wear for an entire week. Employees that are provided with masks report having a hard time keeping them in their proper position, due to profuse sweating. Other meatpacking workers report that, due to the loud noise in meatpacking facilities, they must frequently remove their masks so that they can communicate with their managers. This perhaps is one reason why a union that represents meatpacking employees at Farmer John plant (a division of Smithfield Foods) in Vernon, California reported that there is no evidence that the measures taken to control the coronavirus are working.
Meatpacking employees report that they were threatened with the loss of their jobs if they didn't come to work, even when they were sick. Many workers have not spoken out about the safety hazards to which they are subject because they fear retaliation. And many cannot protect themselves due to language barriers. For instance, at a South Dakota Smithfield meat plant, over 40 languages are spoken. Despite this, workers were given coronavirus informational packets only in English. This perhaps is one reason why, as of April 23rd, 783 workers tested positive for the coronavirus at this particular plant.
The Response of Meat Companies: Taking Advantage of their Economically Disadvantaged Employees
For these reasons (and more!), more than half of the current COVID-19 hotspots in the U.S. are linked to meatpacking facilities. As of September 8th, at least 42,805 meatpacking employees have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least 201 meatpacking facility workers have died. . One would think that the proper response to this would be to close meatpacking facilities. While some meatpacking companies have temporarily closed, most meatpacking facilities have remained open (and the ones that closed are now starting to reopen). Rather than close their facilities, a number of meatpacking companies responded to the outbreaks in meat facilities by offering financial "rewards" to employees who show up for work during the pandemic. For instance, in Greeley, Colorado, the JBS meatpacking plant has increased the hourly wage of employees by $4 in addition to offering a $600 "bonus"; a Smithfield meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota offered a $500 “responsibility bonus” to employees who didn't miss their shifts in April; a Smithfield plant in Southeast Kentucky announced that employees will receive "hero pay"- a $5 hourly increase through July; and a Tyson Foods plant in Camilla, Georgia offered employees a $500 bonus if they continued to work through the pandemic.
Essentially, meatpacking companies tempt their employees to risk their own lives and the lives of their family members with an offer they can't refuse. After all, meatpacking employees are disproportionately low-income black, latino, and/or immigrants who are in "desperate need of income to pay their bills and feed their families." In fact, 87 percent of meatpacking employees who contracted the coronavirus are racial and ethnic minorities. This is why , on July 9th, a civil rights complaint was filed against Tyson Foods and JBS, alleging that JBS and Tyson Foods's failure to protect its employees disproportionately impacted Black and Latino employees and thus amounts to racial discrimination -- a violation of title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
29% of Food Processing Workers are immigrants, many of whom are undocumented and thus cannot receive unemployment benefits or coronavirus government stimulus checks. For instance, over half of the employees at the Smithfield facility in Sioux Falls are immigrants. And because those who work at meatpacking facilities are economically disadvantaged, they often live in multi-generational and/or crowded households. Consequently, if they contract the coronavirus at work, they can quickly spread it to a sizable number of people. This, perhaps, is why coronavirus infection rates in counties within 15 miles of meatpacking plants are twice the national average.
As one author puts it, meatpacking workers are treated "as expendable as the things they’re slaughtering."
*Note: On April 28th, President Trump signed an executive order to use the Defense Production Act to mandate meat processing plants to stay open during the pandemic, and, on May 15th, House Republicans introduced a bill that would give meatpacking plants liability shield from potential coronavirus-based lawsuits.
State-by-State & Country-by-Country Reports of Coronavirus Outbreaks in Meat Packing Facilities
Below are articles about state-by-state and country-by-country coronavirus outbreaks in meatpacking facilities. Note that this is not an exhaustive list of outbreaks in meatpacking facilities, as the public doesn't have complete access to this information. This is because:
There is no government tracking system regarding coronavirus outbreaks in meatpacking facilities.
Many states haven't been or are no longer reporting the coronavirus outbreaks in meatpacking facilities. For example, health officials in Nebraska and North Carolina aren't releasing information on COVID-19 outbreaks at meatpacking plants. And in Iowa, state officials don't publicize meat-processing plant outbreaks "unless they’re asked specifically about certain locations by reporters."
Moreover, many meatpacking facilities aren't disclosing the number of employees who have tested positive for the coronavirus "out of respect for the families" or due to "company policy" (see for instance what is happening in meatpacking facilities in Arizona and Ohio).
Coronavirus cases at Arkansas meat plants rise, draw protests (Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette: May 30th, 2020)
"More than 100 new cases came from poultry workers across the state in the past five days...The Hispanic or Latino populations comprise most of the active cases linked to the poultry industry..."
"This week the total number of cases from people employed by the poultry industry climbed to 415...That's up 37% from Monday when there were 301 cases...At least 69% of the cases are Hispanic or Latino, according to the report."
Tolleson will test 200 city and JBS employees for COVID-19 as virus hits meatpacking industry hard (AZ Central: May 20, 2020)
Tolleson Mayor Anna Tovar said city officials have been unable to get data on how many, if any, JBS employees there have tested positive.
JBS spokesperson said that the company wouldn't share the numbers "as a matter of company policy."
138 employees at Central California meat plant test positive for coronavirus (Los Angeles Times: May 07, 2020)
Employees vent as outbreak grows at Central Valley Meat Co (ABC 30 Action News: May 9th, 2020)
More than 150 plant employees have now tested positive for the disease
Dodger Dog Meatpacking Plant Has a Coronavirus Outbreak (Eater: May 22, 2020)
"After discovering a cluster of six cases in the ham deboning department, Agyin noted that at least 140 people tested positive."
Outbreak of COVID-19 cases reported at Farmer John meat processing facility in Vernon (ABC Eye Witness News: May 23, 200)
OVER 140 CORONAVIRUS CASES NOW AT LA’S ‘DODGER DOG’ MEAT PLANT (Live Kindly: June 2, 2020)
As of May 18th, 8 employees at the JBS facility in Greeley have died.
As of May 6th, there have been 287 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Greeley plant .
'I am feeling helpless': Delaware officials say chicken plant workers face hurdles as coronavirus cases rise (USA Today: April 24th, 2020)
Chicken Plants – and the Food Supply – Take Center Stage in Delaware’s COVID-19 Fight (U.S. News: May 5th, 2020)
More than half of the 300 workers tested in just one Sussex County meatpacking plant last week were found to be positive for the virus.
50 employees at one Magic Valley food plant have tested positive for coronavirus (Idaho Statesman: May 22: 2020)
Dozens of workers at another Idaho meatpacking plant have tested positive for COVID-19 (Idaho Statesman: May 26th, 2020)
At least 44 workers at Ida-Beef have tested positive for coronavirus.
Covid-19 outbreak hits Rantoul meat processing plant (Wisconsin State Farmer: May 12th, 2020)
As of May 11, 83 Rantoul Foods employees tested positive.
South Side meat packing plant employees call for investigation after 21 COVID-19 cases confirmed (ABC NEWS: April 18th, 2020)
As of April 18th, Rose Meat Packing has confirmed 21 cases of COVID-19 out of more than 500 employees.
Rochelle food plant shut down by Ogle County Health Department after COVID-19 outbreak (ABC News: April 18th, 2020)
As of April 18th, 24 coronavirus cases are linked to Hormel Foods.
Workers test positive for coronavirus at Illinois Tyson plant (Meat and Poultry: June 8th, 2020)
"Eight employees at a Tyson Foods Inc. steak-cutting facility in Chicago tested positive for the coronavirus...The new cases are in addition to 23 positive cases identified since April."
Coronavirus infects more than 1,600 workers at four Iowa meatpacking plants (Des Moines Register: May 5th, 2020)
County Officials Say Coronavirus Infects More Than 1,000 Workers At Waterloo Tyson Plant (Iowa Public Radio: May 7th, 2020)
Dead Iowa meatpacking worker twice had warned coronavirus was ‘everywhere’ at plant [Triumph Foods] (Chicago Tribune: May 15th, 2020)
59 of Triumph Foods (Sioux City) workers had tested positive for COVID-19
58 percent of workers at Tyson meat factory in Iowa test positive for coronavirus (NBC News: May 5th, 2020)
As of May 5th, more than 700 employees at a Tyson Foods meat factory in Perry have tested positive for the coronavirus.
State officials announce two more meatpacking plant [Perdue] COVID-19 outbreaks in Northwest Iowa (Iowa's News Now: May 26th, 2020)
"State officials said there are 69 positive cases linked to the Perdue facility in Sioux Center and 20 positive cases tied to the plant in Sioux City. "
555 Employees at Tyson Food Pork Plant in Iowa Test Positive for COVID-19 (Successful Farming: May 28th, 2020)
Tyson: 815 workers at Iowa plants — 591 in Storm Lake and 224 in Council Bluffs — tested positive for COVID-19 (Des Moines Register: June 2nd, 2020)
Kansas meatpacking plant halting work after 5 employees infected with COVID-19 (The Wichita Eagle: May 13th, 2020)
Leaps in Kansas COVID-19 cases attributed to meatpacking facilities, official says (The Wichita Eagle: April 24, 2020)
Coronavirus updates: Kansas cases rise by 419, number of deaths increase by seven (The Wichita Eagle: May 22nd, 2020)
On May 22nd, the number of Coronavirus cases in Kansas rose by 419. 202 of these cases are attributed to meatpacking facilities.
In Kansas, "The 10 clusters at meatpacking facilities account for...2,398 cases, or about 27% of the total, and seven deaths."
Coronavirus updates: Kansas reports 159 more cases and five additional deaths (Wichita Eagle, June 3rd, 2020)
"Clusters at meatpacking facilities, where federal efforts added additional testing, have the bulk of cluster cases, with 2,767. There have also been 10 deaths associated with those clusters."
"The Tyson plant near Garden City has seen 571 cases and one death."
Growing Number of COVID-19 Cases and Kentucky Meat Processing Plants (Spectrum News 1: May 1st, 2020)
One Worker Dead, More Than 200 Infected As Coronavirus Hits KY Meatpackers (Resource: April 27th, 2020)
Coronavirus hot spot in Minnesota connected to surge of cases at meatpacking plant (JBS) (NBC News: May 14th, 2020)
Spike in coronavirus cases at Minnesota meatpacking plant prompts employees to demand shutdown (Fox Business: May 13th, 2020)
Long Prairie Packing Co. site of coronavirus outbreak (News MD: May 22, 2020)
154 workers had tested positive for coronavirus at Pilgrim's Pride poultry processing plant.
Long Prairie Packing latest Minnesota meatpacking plant to have COVID-19 outbreak (Star Tribune, May 28th, 2020)
227 workers have tested positive for the coronavirus at Long Prairie Packing.
Five Jennie-O turkey-processing plants in Minnesota have been hit by COVID-19, and together 303 of their employees tested positive.
Comfrey Farm Prime Pork in Windom had 70 cases
Monogram Meat Snacks in Chandler had 58 cases.
JBS pork facility in Worthington has 704 cases
Pilgrim's Pride chicken operation in Cold Spring has 251 cases.
More than 200 at Quality Pork, Hormel in Austin test positive for COVID-19 (Star Tribune: June 5th, 2020)
Latest on COVID-19 in MN: 1,197 deaths; ICU cases stay below 200 (MPR News: June 8th, 2020)
"In southwestern Minnesota’s Nobles County, where an outbreak hit Worthington’s massive JBS pork plant, about 1 in 15 people have tested positive for COVID-19. In mid-April, there were just a handful of cases. By Monday, there were 1,597 confirmed cases."
Nebraska health officials stop reporting COVID-19 confirmations at meatpacking plants as case counts continue to rise (Business Insider: May 13th, 2020)
669 Tyson workers at Dakota City, Nebraska, plant test positive for COVID-19 (Sioux City Journal: April 30th, 2020)
669 workers at Tyson tested positive for the virus; this represents over 15 percent of the Dakota City workforce.
212 workers test positive for coronavirus after mass testing at Tyson pork plant in Madison (Omaha World Herald: May 13th, 2020)
UNMC surveys meatpacking workers about coronavirus, conditions inside plants (Daily Nonpareil: May 21st, 2020)
Coronavirus infections among meatpackers make up one-quarter of all confirmed cases in Nebraska; 2,601 workers have tested positive and eight have died.
319 of Lancaster County's 1,135 coronavirus cases stem directly from the Smithfield outbreak in Crete.
This outbreak has spread to to employees of Universal Cold Storage in Lincoln. Contact tracing indicates that "many of the Universal Cold Storage workers who contracted COVID-19 are relatives or close contacts with Smithfield workers."
786 workers at Tyson's Dakota City plant have coronavirus (Omaha World Herald: June 1, 2020)
"Tyson Foods reported 786 active coronavirus cases at its Dakota City, Nebraska, beef plant. Testing at the Tyson Foods pork plant in Madison revealed 212 workers had COVID-19."
Coronavirus infects 57 workers at New Mexico meat plant (Stampede Meat) (MSN News: May 22,2020)
Which meat processing plants in NC have coronavirus outbreaks? Here’s what we know (The News & Observer: May 13th, 2020)
As of May 13th, there are 23 outbreaks at meat processing plants in the state affecting at least 1,340 employees.
Smithfield’s largest slaughterhouse struggling to contain virus (North Carolina Health News: May 1st, 2020)
Coronavirus invading N.C. meat processing plants (North Carolina Health News: April 22nd, 2020)
Documents say 52 employees at Butterball have COVID-19 (WECT News: April 27th, 2020)
Meat plants still COVID hotspots as outbreak ravages another Tyson facility (Fox 2: May 21st, 2020)
Tyson Foods reported that a quarter of its Wilkesboro, North Carolina, poultry facility (570 workers) tested positive for COVID-19.
Coronavirus outbreaks at NC meat processing plants force farmers to euthanize over a million chickens (Fox 8 News: May 23rd, 2020)
Coronavirus Cases Are Breaking Out In Meat Processing Plants — But How Many Remains Unclear (WUNC0 1.5: May 28th, 2020)
"The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services told a North Carolina news collaborative on Tuesday that there are 2,146 cases in 28 outbreaks at meat processing facilities. "
But the exact numbers are unclear, as "NCDHHS does not require meatpacking facilities to disclose cases of COVID-19, relying instead on voluntary reporting that the department has been reluctant to share with the public."
Canton monitoring coronavirus outbreak at meat processing facilities (Akron Beacon Journal: May 21, 2020)
Positive cases of coronavirus confirmed at Case Farms plant in Winesburg (Times Reporter: May 2, 2020)
Special Report: In Oklahoma pork-packing town, COVID stirs fear, faith and sorrow (Reuters: May 23rd, 2020)
Seabord Foods meatpacking plant in Oklahoma reports that one quarter of its employees (641 workers) have tested positive for the coronavirus (as of May 21st).
Pa. has more coronavirus cases among meat plant workers than any other state, CDC says (The Philadelphia Inquirer: May 1, 2020)
Pennsylvania has 858 confirmed cases of the coronavirus among meat production workers.
As of April 13th, Smithfield's Covid-19 cases were more than half South Dakota’s active total.
As of April 16th, 16% of the 3,700 Smithfield Foods employees testing positive for the virus.
Here's the latest on coronavirus outbreaks in Tyson meat plants — including 2 in Tennessee (Tennessean: April 23rd, 2020)
As coronavirus closes meat packing plants around U.S., cluster grows at Goodlettsville Tyson (Tennessean: April 22, 2020)
As of April 22, at least 120 workers tested positive for COVID-19 at the Tyson plant in Goodlettsville.
More than 700 new cases of coronavirus reported after testing at meatpacking plants in Amarillo region (Texas Tribune: May 16, 2020)
57 at Santa Teresa meatpacking plant test positive for COVID-19 (KTSM: May 21, 2020)
Official Confirms More Than 200 COVID-19 Cases at North Texas Meat Plant [Tyson]: (5 NBCDFW: May 27th, 2020)
"At least 220 workers at the Tyson Foods plant in Sherman have tested positive for COVID-19, with some of those infected living in surrounding communities throughout Dallas-Fort Worth."
Employee at H-E-B meat packing plant tests positive for coronavirus (KENS5: June 1st, 2020)
Nearly half of all new Utah COVID-19 cases tied to Cache Valley meat plant (Cache Valley Daily: June 5th, 2020)
Bear River Health Department speaks out on COVID-19 outbreak in meat processing facility (KSL News Radio: June 5th, 2020)
Seventy-five to 80 percent of the COVID-19 cases in the Bear River Health District are linked to a mass testing event at JBS meat processing facility in Hyrum.
COVID-19 cases keep climbing at Virginia poultry plants; some members of Congress seek better protections (Virginia Mercury: May 5th, 2020)
More than 260 coronaviruse cases are associated with two facilities run by Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms in Accomack County.
As of May 5th, poultry plant-related cases represent about 60 percent of Accomack’s confirmed cases.
Second Wisconsin meatpacking worker dies of COVID-19; infections at food plants exceed 800 (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: May 8th, 2020)
As of May 8th, at least 835 people have tested positive at 16 meat packing plants in Wisconsin.
JBS plant in Green Bay linked to 147 coronavirus cases as meatpacking outbreaks continue to spread (Green Bay Gazette: April 22, 2020)
Moreover, over 200 employees at American Foods Group facilities in Green Bay have tested positive.
Green Bay neighborhoods near JBS Packerland and American Foods Group facilities have some of the state's highest concentrations of COVID-19.
Outbreaks Outside of the United States
Victoria's largest COVID-19 cluster grows with three new Cedar Meats cases (The Age: May 21st, 2020)
There have been 106 confirmed coronavirus cases at Cedar Meats.
Nine meat plants in southern Brazil face COVID-19 outbreaks (Reuters: April 30th, 2020)
More Brazilian meat workers test positive for Covid-19 (ILM: May 26th, 2020)
JBS plant in rural Brazil ordered close amid COVID-19 outbreak (The Cattle Site: May 28th, 2020)
"More than 60 percent of the cases already confirmed in the municipality were linked to the company."
IN SINGLE BRAZILIAN STATE, SOME 2,400 MEAT PLANT WORKERS CATCH CORONAVIRUS, OFFICIALS SAY (Successful Farming: June 1st, 2020)
"More than a quarter of the confirmed novel coronavirus cases in Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul are among meat plant workers... an estimated 2,399 employees from 24 slaughterhouses in 18 municipalities of the state have been infected. That equates to 25.7% of the 9,332 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Rio Grande do Sul as of Sunday."
3rd death linked to Canada's largest COVID-19 outbreak at Alberta slaughterhouse [Cargill] (CBC: May 11th, 2020)
Cargill meat-packing plant closes in Montreal after 64 workers test positive for COVID-19 (Financial Post: May 11th, 2020)
Inside the slaughterhouse [Cargill]
A total of 1,560 cases have been linked to the plant; 949 employees tested positive for the coronavirus.
Three UK meat processing workers die of COVID-19 (World Socialist Web Site: May 23rd, 2020)
Processing plant closures expand around the world due to COVID-19 (Beef Central: May 28th, 2020)
"Plant workers in England and Wales [are] more than five times more likely to die from COVID-19 than an average worker."
‘Exploitative conditions’: Germany to reform meat industry after spate of Covid-19 cases (The Guardian: May 22nd 2020)
German meat industry to reform following clusters of COVID-19 cases (CGTN: May 24th, 2020)
More than 600 meatpacking workers have contracted the coronavirus.
France sees three COVID-19 clusters at meat plants (Just Food: May 19th, 2020)
More than 100 Covid-19 infections detected at slaughterhouse in western France (The Local: May 21st, 2020)
Workers at Holland Kraft Heinz, Boar’s Head test positive for COVID-19 (Holland Sentinel: April 22nd, 2020)
Dutch meat industry called on to introduce coronavirus testing (Global Meat News.com: May 28th, 2020)
Rise in coronavirus cases in Irish meat industry (Global Meat News: May 20th, 2020)
One dead and more than 600 Irish meat processing workers infected with coronavirus (World Socialist Web Site: May 26th, 2020)