Since President Donald Trump signed an executive order in late April that stated slaughterhouses and meat processing plants were essential businesses, meatpacking plants have seen a spike in COVID-19 cases, according to data from the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.
As of June 9, the center reported more 24,000 positive cases tied to meatpacking facilities in at least 232 plants in 33 states—and at least 88 reported worker deaths at 38 plants in 23 states.
The center compiled its data by analyzing news reports, company press releases, state data, and figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here are the top 5 companies with the most outbreaks, according to the data:
- Tyson Foods—8,060 confirmed cases
- JBS USA—3,073 confirmed cases
- Smithfield Foods—1,705 confirmed cases
- National Beef—820 confirmed cases
- Cargill—697 confirmed cases
Of the 33 states with infected plants, Iowa leads with the most cases. Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota have the next highest number of COVID-19 cases in meatpacking facilities.
In April, the CDC released guidelines for meatpacking facilities—including using face masks and glass partitions, as well as maintaining six feet between employees—but they have not stopped outbreaks. For example, USA Today reports 24 Tyson Food plants have reported outbreaks—including two Iowa plants with more than 800 positive COVID-19 infections—despite providing face masks to all employees and installing barriers between workers.
Yet Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson said plants are safer today than they were before Trump’s executive order.
“We strongly believe the safety measures we’ve put in place are helping to protect our team members and minimize the spread of the virus in the communities where we operate,” Mickelson told USA Today.
Tyson recently reinstated its standard attendance policy that punishes workers who stay home because they are sick, according to Business Insider.
USA Today also reports that 11 Smithfield Foods plants have reported outbreaks, despite installing barriers, adding more hand-sanitizing stations, and increasing its cleaning.
An interactive produced by The New York Times shows how the structure of meatpacking plants is not always conducive to the CDC’s safety guidelines. Mainly, the Times reports that if plants want to ramp up their production speeds again to keep up with demand from consumers, shoulder-to-shoulder assembly lines are necessary.
On June 26, it was reported that 371 Tyson Foods employees in Missouri had tested positive for the coronavirus.