Seattle, WA – As the U.S. continues to enter unchartered waters, the COVID-19 virus may have a new victim – the Hispanic Meat Packers. The month of April has not been kind to the industry that employs thousands of Hispanics across the country.
In Washington state, near Walla Walla, a Tyson plant recently had an outbreak of 30 workers who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. One of the country’s largest pork-producing plants in South Dakota closed indefinitely after nearly 300 of its employees tested positive for COVID-19. In Colorado, the JBS CEO warned that the coronavirus pandemic is pushing the nation’s meat supply “perilously close” to the edge…in what is yet another coronavirus outbreak that sickened dozens of workers there. 3 of those workers died, causing alarm amongst Latino Labor Advocates.
All this talk of coronavirus has done several things. It’s made consumers already dealing with the anxiety of catching COVID-19 even more concerned. It has many wondering if they can catch the dreaded virus from the meat they buy. Most frightful – maybe – if we are going to be able to get meat at all in the near future.
“You might not get what you want when you want it,” said Christine McCracken, a meat industry analyst at Rabobank in New York. “Consumers like to have a lot of different choices, and the reality is in the short term, we just don’t have the labor to make that happen.”
“Labor is going to be the biggest thing that can break,” said Karan Girotra, a supply-chain expert at Cornell University. “If large numbers of people start getting sick in rural America, all bets are off.”
The other elephant in the meat packing room – is the number of Hispanic workers – who are getting hit hard by the COVID-19 virus. Labor industry data shows as many 50% of the workers who are employed inside meat packing plants are Hispanic – primarily from Mexico and Central American countries. One worker in Washington state that we spoke with, who didn’t want to be identified, told HFN that working conditions at the plant were good and employees were trying their best to keep their social distance. “We were aware of the social distancing but in a meat packing plant, it can be a challenge to maintain that. Many felt like it was inevitable that there would be a breakout. There are just too many people who work inside the plant,” said the Tyson employee in Spanish.
Can the Coronavirus Exist on Food?
It is important to keep in mind that as of right now, “there is no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with food,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s primarily because SARS-CoV-2 primarily causes respiratory illness (unlike other viruses, like norovirus and hepatitis, which cause gastrointestinal illnesses). “Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets,” the CDC says. Less commonly, a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object contaminated with the virus, then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes.
What Other Precautions Can I Take?
The best thing is to follow the CDC guidelines, stay at home and make sure you wear a mask if you have to go out to the grocery store to shop. As for the meat industry, it’s a wait and see game right now. The only thing clear in our future is that we have to take things one day at a time.
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