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Several Meat Plants Close After COVID-19 Outbreaks, Some Fear Potential Food Shortages

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  • Hundreds of meat plant workers have tested positive for COVID-19, forcing many plants to close down. 
  • However, some leaders, including Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, are fighting to keep them open, fearing that mass closures could lead to a food shortage across the country.
  • While some experts say an immediate shortage is unlikely, others fear that a global shortage is inevitable. The head United Nations World Food Program said that if nothing is done, we could see a famine on a “biblical” scale.
  • Some companies are doing their part to help this food crisis, like Publix, which announced an initiative to buy produce and milk from farmers to donate to food banks.

Meant Plants See High Infection Rates

Meat plants across the country are seeing severe COVID-19 outbreaks, forcing many to close and prompting fears of potential food shortages.

Hundreds of meat supply workers across the United States have contracted the novel coronavirus. Considered essential workers under stay-at-home orders, they are still going to work every day, standing in close proximity in shared spaces, and often touching shared equipment. Because most parts of their job make adequate social distancing close to impossible, these meat plants have become easy grounds for the virus to spread throughout.

Some plants have taken measures like increased cleanings, staggering breaks, and implementing temperature checks to protect the health of their employees. Others have claimed to relax policies about sick leave, but the pressure to work still exists.

Georgia resident Alejandra Wehunt told ABC News that when one of her co-workers at a poultry plant contracted COVID-19, she was still told that despite the pandemic, she had to show up to work or risk losing her job. Wehunt has a daughter, lives with her grandmother, and has other serious health issues, leaving her feeling like she had no choice but to stop going to work.

Why are we losing our jobs because we don’t want to put our health in jeopardy,” she said to ABC. 

Workers at these plants are not the only ones vulnerable to infection. According to a report from KY3 in Missouri, rural counties home to meat packing plants have a higher infection rate than major cities in the state. 

Saline and Moniteau counties have the highest infection rates in Missouri, seeing 419 cases per 100,000 residents, and 341 cases per 100,000 residents respectively. Meanwhile, St. Louis county has a rate of 234 per 100,000. Experts believe that the meat plants are at least partially responsible for the scale of these outbreaks in these more rural places. 

Still, the pressure for workers to show up so plants can stay open is not just coming from the plants themselves. Some leaders in the midwest, where food supply is a prominent industry, are urging for meat plants to stay open, too.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said she fears the potential outcomes of mass closures of plants. Her state produces one third of the nation’s pork, so she is concerned about job losses and food shortages.

“These are also essential businesses and an essential workforce,” Reynolds said in a statement. “Without them, people’s lives and our food supply will be impacted. So we must do our part to keep them open in a safe and responsible way.”

Plant Closures

However, many are afraid that remaining open in a safe and responsible way is not a possibility for plants in Iowa and elsewhere.

Darrell Hendrickson, the Moniteau County, environmental specialist told KY3 that plants in his area have closed because social distancing is not really feasible. 

“That’s the problem with facilities of this type,” he said. “They have distanced as much as possible, but I can’t guarantee they get 6 feet between all employees.”

Several plants nationwide have also closed. On Wednesday, Tyson ordered two of its meat plants to close, one of which is its biggest pork plant. That plant, based in Iowa, had over 180 coronavirus cases. It accounted for nearly half of the county’s total cases. 

“Despite our continued efforts to keep our people safe while fulfilling our critical role of feeding American families, the combination of worker absenteeism, Covid-19 cases and community concerns has resulted in our decision to stop production,” the company said in a statement.

On Thursday, Tyson closed another in Washington state. Other major companies like Smithfield Foods and JBS USA have had to make the same decisions with some of their plants. With these continued closures, a lot of people are concerned about what this does to the food supply chain, and experts seem to have split opinions.

Food Shortage Fears

Purdue University economist Jason Lusk told ABC that closures should not cause immediate food shortages.

“It’s a very fluid and volatile situation to keep an eye out for in the days to come,” he said.

Others are more concerned. A representative for Tyson told the Washington Post that this means a “loss of a vital market outlet for farmers and further contributes to the disruption of the nation’s pork supply.”

The Post also explained that if grocers begin to run low on meat, consumers could begin to hoard it, the same way they did with toilet paper, beans, hand sanitizer, and other essentials during the beginning of the pandemic.

The head of the United Nations World Food Program, David Beasley, said that food shortages are going to be a global problem on a massive scale. He believes that if nothing is done soon,  “we could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months.” According to Beasley, COVID-19 could cause an additional 130 million people be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end 2020.

Publix Food Plan

Some businesses are doing their part to make sure food supply is distributed to those who need it. Grocery chain Publix announced an initiative to make sure that food that could potentially go to waste gets donated. 

“Restaurant, hotel, and school closings have affected Florida’s produce farmers and southeastern dairies, resulting in good food going to waste,” they said in a statement on Wednesday. “At the same time, Feeding America estimates 17.1 million people will experience food insecurity due to school closures and rising unemployment in the coming months.”

To curb this, Publix will be purchasing produce and milk directly from farmers to donate to Feeding America and local food banks. Within the first week, they anticipate donating 150,000 pounds of produce and 43,500 gallons of milk.

See what others are saying: (ABC News) (KY3) (Washington Post)

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NJ Woman Charged for Assaulting Staples Customer Who Asked Her to Correctly Wear a Mask

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  • New Jersey Police have charged 25-year-old Terri Thomas with second-degree aggravated assault for violently tossing a woman with a cane to the ground at a Staples store last Wednesday.
  • Thomas attacked 54-year-old Margot Kagan for telling her to wear her face mask properly.
  • Kagan, who police say had a liver transplant four months ago, was hospitalized and is recovering from a leg injury that required surgery as a result of the incident. 

The Incident

Police in New Jersey said Tuesday that they arrested and charged a woman caught on surveillance video attacking a fellow Staples customer who told her to correctly wear her mask. 

The dispute happened inside a Hackensack Staples store last Wednesday when 54-year-old Margot Kagan was using the copy machine. Kagan, who police said had a liver transplant four months ago, noticed 25-year-old Terri Thomas walk by with her mask below her mouth. 

Kagan told a local news station that she told Thomas, “You should really put a mask on,” and warned her that she was endangering everyone. However, the remarks made Thomas angry she reportedly began yelling.

The surveillance footage shows Thomas walking towards Kagan, who lifts her cane to keep Thomas away. Thomas then reaches for the cane and violently tosses Kagan to the ground.

Thomas walks out of view for a few seconds and when she returns, Kagan sticks her leg out to trip Thomas, but Thomas ultimately walks away unharmed and leaves the store. 

Injuries and Charges 

Kagan was hospitalized after the attack and police said she left with a fractured left tibia that required surgery. However, Kagan later told ABC 7 she suffered a broken knee and required a steel plate to be put in. She also claims she’s been told by doctors that she won’t be able to put weight on her leg for seven to 10 weeks. 

As far as Thomas, police have charged her with second-degree aggravated assault and she was released on a summons pending a court appearance on August 24. In New Jersey, the charge is punishable by 5-10 years in jail, and fines as high as $150,000.

Hackensack police are encouraging anyone who witnessed the crime or have any information to reach out to them. 

See what others are saying: (ABC7) (NJ.com) (NBC News)

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Aurora Police Apologize for Drawing Weapons on Black Family in Mistaken Stop

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  • Police drew guns on a Black family in Aurora, Colorado on Sunday who they believed were in a stolen vehicle, ordering the group out of the car and facedown down on the ground. 
  • The passengers were girls between the ages of 6 and 17 and video shows them sobbing in fear during the incident, with at least two minors in handcuffs. 
  • The adult female driver was able to confirm that the car was not stolen and police explained that the car had the same plate information as a car reported stolen in a different state. They also blamed the mixup on the fact that the family’s car was reported stolen earlier this year, even though Aurora police returned it back to them a day later. 
  • The city’s new police chief apologized and offered them therapy resources. She also said officers followed protocol but should be allowed to use discretion to deviate in situations like this and has ordered her team to look at new training practices.

What Happened? 

Police in Aurora, Colorado apologized Monday for drawing weapons on a Black family after mistaking their car for another stolen vehicle. 

On Sunday, August 2, Brittney Gilliam decided to take her 6-year-old daughter, 12-year-old sister, and 14 and 17-year-old nieces out to get their nails done. Gilliam told CNN that her niece had just gotten back in the car after looking to see if the nail salon they wanted to go to was open. At this point, she and the girls were parked in a parking lot with the car turned off.

That’s when Aurora police pulled up behind the vehicle with guns drawn. Then, police allegedly yelled at the group to put their hands out of the window and get out of the car.

She said the family exited the vehicle and were told to lay face down on the ground. At that time, police handcuffed Gilliam, her 12-year-old sister, and 17-year-old niece. Gilliam claims that police would not explain why she was pulled over until she was handcuffed. Then, they pulled her away to verify her claim that the car was not stolen as the children remained on the ground. 

A bystander named Jennifer Wurtz began recorded the incident after the family was handcuffed. The footage is about 12 and a half minutes long, but a shorter minute in a half-second clip went viral on Twitter. That clip shows the minors facedown on the floor sobbing as police try to keep onlookers away.

Eventually, police sit the children up and in the longer video, Wurtz can be heard pressing the officers about why they had drawn guns on children. 

Police repeatedly asked her to stop interfering, however, they did say she had the right to film. Wurtz stopped pointing the phone towards the scene, but continued to criticize the stop and asked for the officers’ names.

As frustration from onlookers grew, one officer explained that this was a “high-risk stop” and that police were following procedure.

The onlookers were still angry about the policy being used against children and became angrier after learning that the car was in fact, not stolen. 

What Caused the Confusion? 

As far as what the mixup actually was, Gilliam explained that she had reported her car stolen in February, but that case was cleared up. In fact, her attorney told CNN that when her vehicle was stolen, it was actually returned to her the next day by Aurora police. 

In a statement late Monday, Intern Chief of Police Vanessa Wilson said that after the stop, police realized the car Gilliam was driving was not stolen. Instead, another vehicle with the same plate information but from a different state had been. The Associated Press reported that the vehicle was a motorcycle from Montana. 

In her statement, Wilson said “The confusion may have been due, in part, to the fact that the stopped car was reported stolen. After realizing the mistake, officers immediately unhandcuffed everyone involved, explained what happened and apologized.”

“I have called (Gilliam’s) family to apologize and to offer any help we can provide, especially for the children who may have been traumatized by yesterday’s events,” she continued. “I have reached out to our victim advocates so we can offer age-appropriate therapy that the city will cover.”

Outrage and Apology 

Still, that did little to put the community at ease, especially since the incident comes amid widespread frustration over how Black people are treated by police. Frustrations are especially high in Aurora, where police have faced security for the 2019 death of Elijah McClain. McClain was an unarmed Black man who was stopped by officers as he walked home after he was reported as a suspicious person in a ski mask. 

During the confrontation, officers placed him in a chokehold and paramedics injected him with ketamine to sedate him. He then suffered a heart attack in the ambulance and was declared brain dead days later before being taken off life support. 

Just last month, two officers were fired for reenacting the chokehold in a photo near the memorial site for Elijah McClain A third officer was fired for not alerting supervisors about the photo while a fourth resigned before a disciplinary hearing about the incident. 

So this latest incident piled on the existing outrage against the local department and police policies in general. And many, including Gilliam, felt that the stolen car mixup did not justify how the young girls were treated. 

“That’s police brutality,” she told KUSA. “There’s no excuse why you didn’t handle it a different type of way. … You could have even told them, ‘Step off to the side let me ask your mom or your auntie a few questions so we can get this cleared up.’ ”

In her statement, Chief Wilson confirmed that a suspect in a stolen vehicle is a high-risk stop, and said officers followed procedures they are trained to carry out. However, she added that the department, “must allow our officers to have discretion and to deviate from this process when different scenarios present themselves.”

Wilson added that an internal investigation into this incident has been opened and said she had directed her team to look at new practices and training. Her promises to reexamine department practices are especially significant because that same Monday night, Aurora’s city council voted to make Wilson the city’s permanent police chief. 

See what others are saying: (Denver Post) (CNN) (Sentinel Colorado)

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260 Campers and Staffers at Georgia Summer Camp Tested COVID-19 Positive

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  • In Georgia, 260 people at a summer camp tested positive for the coronavirus in June, per a report from the CDC. 
  • In total, 597 Georgia residents were at the camp, meaning there was at least a 44% attack rate. 
  • Campers, as well as a good portion of the staff, were 17 and under. The vast majority of those who tested positive were aged 17 or under, contradicting the narrative that kids are less likely to get and spread COVID-19. 
  • Officials believe a variety of factors contributed to this outbreak, including campers not being required to wear masks, being lodged in close quarters, engaging in indoor activities, and participating in daily singing and cheering that likely promoted disease spread.

Campers Test Positive

In Georgia, 260 campers and staffers at an overnight summer camp tested positive for the coronavirus in June, according to a recently released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This data contradicts the narrative that children are less likely to fall ill with and spread COVID-19, which many are relying on in the push to open schools back up in the fall. According to the CDC, 597 Georgia residents were at the camp, meaning the camp had a 44% attack rate. That rate is likely even higher, as test results from just 58% of those at the camp were available.

While the CDC referred to the camp just as “Camp A,” many reports have since identified the camp as YMCA Camp High Harbour, which closed following the outbreak. The median age of campers there is 12, while the median age for staffers is 17. According to NBC News, 231 of those 260 people who tested positive were aged 17 or under.

The outbreak started when a teenage staff member left the camp after developing chills. The next day, that staff member tested positive for the coronavirus. The camp then began sending kids home until it was fully shut down three days later. It was recommended that everyone get tested for the virus and isolate if positive. 

How Did the Outbreak Spread?

Officials believe that while the camp followed a good chunk of the CDC’s suggested safety guidelines, the size of the outbreak might be tied to the fact that the camp neglected to implement a few key rules. For example, while staff at the camp were required to wear masks, the roughly 360 campers were not. The camp also did not utilize ventilation protocols, like keeping windows and doors open to allow air to circulate. Activities took place both indoors and outdoors, including “daily vigorous singing and cheering” which could have promoted disease spread. 

“The multiple measures adopted by the camp were not sufficient to prevent an outbreak in the context of substantial community transmission,” the CDC said in their report. “Relatively large cohorts sleeping in the same cabin and engaging in regular singing and cheering likely contributed to transmission.”

The CDC also believes that asymptomatic spread was common and factored into the high case rate. The organization also believes that it is possible that some of the cases could have been tied to outbreaks outside of the camp given the spikes the state of Georgia saw throughout June and July. 

The biggest takeaway from this outbreak, though, is the way that the disease spread among young people. It has commonly been believed that children are not as susceptible to the virus as adults; however, as officials receive new data, that belief is being questioned. 

“This investigation adds to the body of evidence demonstrating that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and, contrary to early reports, might play an important role in transmission,” the CDC wrote. 

Questions of School Safety

This case is adding to concerns that there could be severe outbreaks when schools open up in the fall. 

“We are not ready to have full in-person contact consisting of hundreds of students, faculty and staff with the expectation that no one spread or contracts COVID-19,” Dooly County Schools Superintendent Craig Lockhart told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are not ready to return to in-person schooling and be highly confident that we can protect employees and students.”

Georgia in particular has seen rapid case spikes throughout the state. The safety of schools was further called into question on Monday when it was reported that 260 employees from Gwinnett County School District, the largest school district in the state, either tested positive or were exposed to the coronavirus. They are currently being excluded from work as a result.

It is unclear if these events will change the way the state handles its school reopening strategies or if new policies will be implemented as a result of them.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (Washington Post)

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