As the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March 2020, several meat-processing plants quickly closed in response to outbreaks. Across the country, new cases emerged throughout the spring and summer, and again in winter, fueled by negligence and misconduct that news outlets, watchdog groups, and congressional committees have uncovered throughout the past year.
According to health experts, meat and poultry workers, who work in harsh conditions, have been at unique risk for contracting Covid-19: In processing plants, workers handle meat at a fast pace, forcing them to stand close together in loud environments. The majority of workers are Black, Latino, and/or immigrants — groups that have disproportionately suffered during the pandemic.
Reports found that company officials avoided and delayed introducing mitigation measures that could have saved lives, and even evinced a startling lack of concern for their employees’ lives.
Despite the risks, on April 28, then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order labeling meat-processing plants “critical infrastructure,” which allowed plants to remain open during the pandemic.
While workers suffered under policies that served to increase profits, not safety, the virus spread. As of March 2021, more than 80,000 meat and food processing workers had tested positive for Covid-19.
In February 2021, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis launched an investigation into coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking plants nationwide. For more information about oversight of Covid-19 spread among vulnerable populations, visit our Oversight Tracker.
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