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Michael Dautner
June 26, 2020

Food Workers are at Huge Risk as COVID-19 is Worsening

 

food workers

The coronavirus is claiming a massive number of lives in the US, a total of more than what was observed in post-WWII, mass shootings, and terrorist attacks. President Trump continues reiterating multiple times that the US must reopen irrespective of the availability of a vaccine. However, there are millions of essential workers in all states who have been at work during this time, risking their lives to provide us with the comforts of life. Not the least of which is the food manufacturers and food processors, who make sure that the food chain keeps running without any setbacks.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research reported that a high fraction of food workers tend to be a mix of immigrants, minorities, and people of color. They receive disproportionately low wages and thus cannot afford to impose a self-lockdown or practice adequate social distancing due to the nature of their job. These workers are hardly ever mentioned in mainstream media segments. Now according to FERN research, the food workers, especially in the meatpacking industries, farm sectors, and food processing plants, are starting to become exponential victims of the virus.

In their research, which goes back to late April, FERN has reported over 109 deaths amongst these people, while more than 32,000 cases have been registered. The state of such corporate entities due to their lack of communication with the workers over such issues shows that the actual numbers could be higher. It is virtually impossible at this moment to get an objective count.

Among these 32,000+ cases, over 27,000 are from the meatpacking sector, 2100+ are from the food-processing workers, while 2770+ are reported to be among the workers engaged at rural farms. Incidentally, these industries happen to be all three of the major food sectors under the analysis. It is further reported that 249 meatpacking plants have become victims of the virus, which accounts for more than 65% of the whole food industry outbreaks.

The pork plants lead the way with most cases among the meat industries with more than 30% of the overall cases. Beef plants are responsible for 20% of the cases, while chicken plants hover around 10%. Among the known industries, Tyson Foods, which happens to be America’s leading meatpacking corporation, reported over 8000 cases divided over 37 local plants. This number is as high as three times the reported cases in JBS, the main competitor to Tyson.

Although the count of many places is available, specific numbers of them cannot be ascertained, like a few farm sectors in Florida, where even though farmworkers are at evident risk from the virus, the exact numbers cannot be tracked. Such rural farms are at considerable risk from the virus, and FERN reports that, on average, the contraction rate at rural meatpacking plants is about five times higher than other rural regions. It is a concerning situation at a time when major cities are thankfully starting to observe somewhat lower infection rates.

Some states which host large orchard settings and depend on their fruits like Washington State have also reportedly registered higher cases than the rest. On a whole, however, Colorado now has the unwanted position of having the most registered cases in the food industry after it overtook North Carolina this month, while Nebraska leads the way with the most cases among the meatpacking workers.

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