- 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.”
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)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Heavy)(CBS 58) (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Medical Groups, Local Leaders Push for Healthcare Workers and Public Employees To Get Vaccinated
The move comes as COVID cases have nearly quadrupled in the last month due to the rapid spread of the highly infectious delta variant.
Increased Calls for Mandatory Vaccinations in Certain Sectors
More than 50 of America’s largest medical groups representing millions of healthcare workers issued a statement Monday calling for employers of all health and long-term care providers to require mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations.
The groups, which included the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and 55 others, cited contagious new variants — including delta — and low vaccination rates.
“Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures,” they wrote.
The call to action comes as new COVID cases have almost quadrupled during the month of July, jumping from just around 13,000 infections a day at the beginning of this month to more than 50,000.
While the vast majority of new infections and hospitalizations are among those who have not received the vaccines, many healthcare workers remain unvaccinated. According to data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, over 38% of nursing home staff were not fully vaccinated as of July 11.
An analysis by WebMD and Medscape Medical News found that around 25% of hospital workers who were in contact with patients had not been vaccinated by the end of May when vaccinations became widely available.
In addition to calls for medical professionals to get vaccinated, some local leaders have also begun to impose mandates for public employees as cases continue spiking.
Last month, San Francisco announced that it was requiring all city workers to get vaccinated. Also on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that all municipal employees — including police officers and teachers — must either get the jab or agree to weekly testing by the time school starts in September.
Dr. Fauci Says U.S. Officials Are Considering Revising Mask Guidance for Vaccinated People
Numerous top U.S. health officials have applauded efforts by local leaders to mitigate further spread of the coronavirus, including the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who confirmed Sunday that federal officials are actively considering whether to revise federal masking guidelines to recommend that vaccinated Americans wear face coverings in public settings.
In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are vaccinated do not need to mask in public. Although that was a non-binding recommendation, many states and cities that had not already lifted restrictions on masking began to do so shortly after.
But now, local leaders in areas seeing big spikes have begun reimposing mask mandates — even for those who are vaccinated — including major counties like Los Angeles and St. Louis.
In his remarks Sunday, Fauci also emphasized that, despite claims from many conservatives, those efforts are in line with the federal recommendations, which leave space for local leaders to issue their own rules.
While Fauci and other top U.S. public health officials have encouraged local governments to take action, Republican lawmakers in several states are taking steps to limit the ability of local leaders and public health officials to take certain mitigation measures.
According to the Network for Public Health Law, at least 15 state legislatures have passed or are considering bills to limit the legal authority of public health agencies — and that does not even include unilateral action taken by governors.
Some of the leaders of states suffering the biggest spikes have banned local officials from imposing their own mask mandates, like Arkansas, which has the highest per capita cases in the country right now, as well as Florida, which currently ranks third.
Notably, some of the laws proposed or passed by Republicans could go beyond just preventing local officials from trying to mitigate surges in COVID cases and may have major implications for other public health crises.
For example, according to The Washington Post, a North Dakota law that bans mask mandates applies to other breakouts — even tuberculosis — while a new Montana law also bars the use of quarantine for people who have been exposed to an infectious disease but have not yet tested positive.