In this file:


·         Covid-19 shows no sign of slowing among food-system workers

·         How Widespread Coronavirus Testing Helped Meatpacking Plants Halt Outbreaks



Covid-19 shows no sign of slowing among food-system workers


By Leah Douglas, Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN)

June 22, 2020


The nation is in various stages of reopening as the number of new Covid-19 cases falls in some regions. Yet among the vulnerable workers who produce our food, the pandemic is still raging. A new analysis of data collected by FERN since mid-April shows that the virus is spreading steadily among meatpacking, food processing, and farmworkers, and many states are experiencing outbreaks in multiple food and farm sectors.


Since April 22, FERN has counted over 32,000 Covid-19 cases and 109 deaths among food-system workers. The true count is likely much higher, as data irregularities, including the industry’s reticence to share data about worker illness and the inconsistent availability of state figures, make it impossible to know exactly how many workers have contracted the virus. But the trend line below illustrates that there has not been a flattening in the number of new reported Covid-19 cases in the sector at any point since the pandemic began.


The ongoing spread of Covid-19 among food-sector workers has contributed to rising infection rates in many rural communities, even as major metropolitan areas see the virus’ spread abating. Analysis by FERN and Daily Yonder found that, in rural communities with meatpacking plants that have had Covid-19 outbreaks, the infection rate is five times higher on average than in other rural counties.


Cases are rising across all three of the major food industry sectors that FERN is tracking: meatpacking, food processing, and farms. Since April 22, FERN has counted a cumulative total of 27,138 cases among meatpacking workers, 2,190 among food-processing workers, and 2,771 among farmworkers. These are the most comprehensive figures available, though even these tallies do not account for some known hot spots — like Immokalee, Florida, where the virus is spreading among farmworkers but specific case counts are not available...


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How Widespread Coronavirus Testing Helped Meatpacking Plants Halt Outbreaks


Daniel Charles, NPR | Heard on All Things Considered

June 22, 2020


Back in April, the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, was a poster child for corporate failure to protect workers from the coronavirus. Dozens of plant employees every day were showing up in clinics with symptoms of COVID-19. Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye, the public health director for Black Hawk County, Iowa, where the plant is located, recalls telling plant managers: "There is a huge volume [of cases]. There is an outbreak!"


At the time, no one knew the scale of the outbreak. Cisse Egbuonye told Tyson's managers that they needed to test every single one of their employees: "You have to get a sense of what's going on in the plant."


So in late April, Tyson shut down the Waterloo plant temporarily and asked plant employees — all 2800 of them — to come to the plant's parking lot and allow someone to stick a swab up their nose.


"Yeah, we had to take dramatic measures," says Scott Brooks, a senior vice president at Tyson.


When it was all finished, about a thousand workers at the plant had tested positive for the virus. Hundreds of them had no COVID-19 symptoms. Without testing, they would have continued going to work together in close quarters, potentially spreading the virus.


Since then, Tyson has carried out one-time tests of every worker at almost 20 of its facilities, from Maine to Virginia and Texas. "We're somewhere around 30,000 people, team members, that have been tested," says Brooks. "That's about a quarter of our workforce."


Meatpacking plants have been among the country's worst coronavirus hot spots, with thousands of workers infected. Dozens have died. But the rapid roll out of testing among workers in those plants could offer lessons that other businesses may need to emulate as they try to re-open.


Tyson is not alone among meat companies in its program to test workers, but it has released the most information from those tests. It also has brought in an outside company, Matrix Medical, to run the program. It appears to be one of the largest privately run coronavirus testing programs in the country.


Dennis Medbourn, a union steward at Tyson's plant in Logansport, Ind., also got tested in late April. "Had a swab up the nose; it wasn't fun, I'll tell you that," he says. "At that time, I was not feeling sick."


But a few days later, while he was waiting for those test results, he lost his sense of smell and started getting constant headaches. He wasn't surprised to hear that he's tested positive, along with close to 900 others. Fortunately, his was a mild case.


This has been the story at one plant after another...