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Various large meat processing plants across the country have closed after their employees tested positive for coronavirus. Some of the plants include Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Columbus, Iowa, National Beef Packing Co beef processing plant in Tama, Iowa, JBS USA beef processing plant in Greeley, Colorado and Smithfield Food in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. While Smithfield Foods announced that they have closed indefinitely, the other meat processing plans have suspended production until further notice.
Smithfield Foods, located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is one of the nation’s largest pork processing facilities in the nation. The plant provides 4% to 5% of the pork produced in the United States. On March 26, the first Smithfield Foods employee tested positive for coronavirus. The plant remained open and implemented measures that they hoped would slow down transmission of the virus preventing a cluster of Covid-19 around the plant. Those measures, however, were unsuccessful and the plant became a hot spot for infections as cases continued to rise among employees. Just a few days ago, the Sioux Falls meat supply chain announced that they would be closing indefinitely after nearly 300 of the plant’s 3,700 workers tested positive for coronavirus. Health officials said Sunday that 293 of the 730 people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in South Dakota work at the plant.
Other meat processing plants have suspended operations temporarily due to outbreaks among employees. Tyson Foods, located in Columbus, Iowa, suspended operations after more than two dozen workers became symptomatic with the virus. National Beef Packing Co., also located in Iowa, suspended operations until April 20 after multiple employees tested positive for the virus.
JBS USA’s beef professing plant located in Greeley, Colorado, also recently announced that they will be temporarily shutting down the facility through April 24 due to an outbreak among employees. United Food and Commercial Workers union officials reported that at least 50 employees of the plant tested positive for the virus, and two employees died last week from complications with the virus. Colorado Governor Jared Polis told CNN, “Judging from the figures about two deaths, about 14 hospitalized. I would estimate there’s probably between two or four hundred folks that will test positive. But we’ll see, it is anybody’s guess.” JBS also suspended operations at its beef plant in Souderton, Pennsylvania after several members of the plant’s management team were experiencing flu-like symptoms.
While many of the meat processing plants have suspended their operations for a short period of time, plants could remain closed for longer if employees continue to transmit the virus. Some suggest that the virus spread so quickly along employees of meat processing plants because employees are in close contact with one another. Employees typically change to their uniforms while standing side by side each other in small locker rooms and stand shoulder to shoulder in the meat processing line while cutting and packing meat that Americans eat.
Employees of meat processing plants and union leaders have criticized these meat processing plants for not giving their production workers an adequate supply of protective gear. Prior to the closures, employees staged walkouts at various meat processing plants or didn’t show up to work in protest of the lack of protections. In light of these complaints and the widespread outbreak of the virus among employees, many have urged leaders to take better steps to protect employees’ safety moving forward.
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