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According to the CDC, 9% of workers in meat packaging plants were diagnosed with Covid-19

A facility of Tyson Foods Inc. is located in Lexington, Nebraska, USA, on Friday April 24, 2020. Nebraska companies that fired workers during the coronavirus crisis may be forced to repay tax credits and other incentives, they have received through the state business incentive program, the State Department of Revenue said.

Dan Brouillette | Bloomberg | Getty Images

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 9% of workers in meat and poultry processing plants in 1

4 states were diagnosed with Covid-19.

Meat packaging companies under pressure to produce enough food for US consumers became early hot spots of the coronavirus pandemic. In April and May, the country’s largest meat producers such as Tyson Foods and Cargill had to close some facilities due to outbreaks. Overall production of state-controlled red meat and poultry decreased 8% in April and 13% in May, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Delays in production led to many farmers slaughtering their cattle themselves. President Donald Trump signed an implementation regulation under the Defense Production Act in late April to force meat packaging companies to open.

The CDC report compiled responses from 28 state health departments, five of which did not report confirmed cases related to meat processing workers. As of May 31, 86 deaths from workers in 23 states could be linked to Covid-19. Almost 240 meat processing plants had at least one confirmed case among their workers, and more than 16,200 workers in 23 countries tested positive for the virus.

The conditions in the meat packaging industry, in which many workers have to be in close contact for long shifts, make social distancing almost impossible. The CDC also found in its report that joint transportation to and from work and the compilation of apartments also increases the risk of workers being exposed to the virus.

Some meat producers have tried to increase protection for their workers, but others have lagged behind. In the CDC survey, only 86 establishments at the 111 factories that had information about their preventive measures were required to wear facewear. 69 of the 111 facilities installed physical barriers between workers, and 41 offered Covid-19 tests to workers.

On Monday, a coalition of more than 120 groups sent letters to Tyson’s largest shareholders asking them to ask meat producers to better protect their workers by offering paid leave and ensuring daily testing and other measures.

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