- 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)
Katie Couric Says She Edited Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quote About Athletes Kneeling During National Anthem
Couric said she omitted part of a 2016 interview in order to “protect” the justice.
Kate Couric Edited Quote From Justice Ginsburg
In her upcoming book, journalist Katie Couric admitted to editing a quote from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 2016 in order to “protect” Ginsberg from potential criticism.
Couric interviewed the late justice for an article in Yahoo News. During their discussion, she asked Ginsburg about her thoughts on athletes like Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem to protest racial inequality.
“I think it’s really dumb of them,” Ginsburg is quoted saying in the piece. “Would I arrest them for doing it? No. I think it’s dumb and disrespectful. I would have the same answer if you asked me about flag burning. I think it’s a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act.”
According to The Daily Mail and The New York Post, which obtained advance copies of Couric’s book “Going There,” there was more to Ginsburg’s response. Couric wrote that she omitted a portion where Ginsburg said the form of protest showed a “contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life…Which they probably could not have lived in the places they came from.“
Couric Says She Lost Sleep Making Choice
“As they became older they realize that this was youthful folly,” Ginsberg reportedly continued. “And that’s why education is important.“
According to The Daily Mail, Couric wrote that the Supreme Court’s head of public affairs sent an email asking to remove comments about kneeling because Ginsburg had misspoken. Couric reportedly added that she felt a need to “protect” the justice, thinking she may not have understood the question. Couric reached out to her friend, New York Times reporter David Brooks, regarding the matter and he allegedly likewise believed she may have been confused by the subject.
Couric also wrote that she was a “big RBG fan” and felt her comments were “unworthy of a crusader for equality.” Because she knew the remarks could land Ginsburg in hot water, she said she “lost a lot of sleep” and felt “conflicted” about whether or not to edit them out.
Couric was trending on Twitter Wednesday and Thursday as people questioned the ethics behind her choice to ultimately cut part of the quote. Some thought the move showed a lack of journalistic integrity while others thought revealing the story now harmed Ginsburg’s legacy.
See what others are saying: (New York Post) (The Daily Mail) (Insider)
Biden Administration Orders ICE To Halt Workplace Raids
The Department of Homeland Security will now focus on targeting employers who exploit undocumented workers, instead of carrying out raids that dissuade those workers from reporting labor violations.
DHS Reverses Worksite Raid Policy
The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it was ordering Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop workplace raids.
The move marks a reversal from Trump administration policies that have been strongly criticized by immigration activists who argue the efforts created fear in immigrant communities and dissuaded them from reporting labor violations or exploitative employment practices.
In addition to stopping the raids, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a memo that the administration will refocus enforcement efforts to instead target “employers who exploit unauthorized workers, conduct illegal activities or impose unsafe working conditions.”
Mayorkas added that the immigration agencies housed in DHS will have the next 60 days to identify harmful existing policies and come up with new ones that provide better deportation protections for workers who report their employers.
In the Tuesday memo, the secretary argued that shift of focus will “reduce the demand for illegal employment by delivering more severe consequences to exploitative employers” and “increase the willingness of workers to report violations of law by exploitative employers and cooperate in employment and labor standards investigation.”
Labor Market Implications
The new policy comes at a time when the U.S. is experiencing a critical labor shortage, including in many sectors that rely on immigrant labor.
Some companies that use undocumented workers pay them wages that are far below the market rate, which is not only exploitative but also undercuts competitors.
According to Mayorkas, the pivot to employer-based enforcement will help protect American businesses.
“By exploiting undocumented workers and paying them substandard wages, the unscrupulous employers create an unfair labor market,” he said in the memo. “They also unfairly drive down their costs and disadvantage their business competitors who abide by the law.”
It is currently unclear how effective the new efforts will be, but historical precedent does not paint an optimistic picture.
The Biden administration’s efforts closely mirror a similar move by the Obama administration, which attempted to reverse workplace raids authorized under President George W. Bush by targetting those who employ undocumented workers rather than the workers themselves.
That effort, however, still led to thousands of undocumented workers being fired.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (ABC News)
Mom Charged for Hosting Secret Teen Parties, Pressuring Kids To Drink and Engage in Sex Acts
Investigators said some of the sex acts between teens were non-consensual and at times took place while the mother stood by laughing.
Mother Hit With Dozens of Charges
A California mother is facing 39 criminal charges after hosting a series of illegal parties for her teenage son and his mostly 14- and 15-year-old friends that regularly led to dangerous accidents and sexual assaults.
The mother, 47-year-old Shannon O’Connor, also known as Shannon Bruga, is currently awaiting extradition to Santa Clara County. According to The Mercury News, she was arrested Saturday in Ada County, Idaho, where she has a home in addition to her property in Los Gatos that is currently on the market.
Her criminal charges include 12 felony counts and 10 misdemeanor counts of child endangerment, one count of misdemeanor sexual battery, three counts of misdemeanor child molestation, and 13 misdemeanor counts of providing alcohol to minors.
“It took a lot of brave children to come forward and to untangle this deeply disturbing case,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a press release regarding the case. “As a parent, I’m shocked. As the DA, I’m determined to hold those adults who endanger children fully accountable to the law and our community.”
What Happened During the Parties?
Investigators claim O’Connor organized the functions, attended by as many as 20 teens, via text message and Snapchat. She would then allegedly supply the teens with alcohol and push them to binge drink, often to the point of illness or unconsciousness.
The harm that resulted from their intoxication included one teen breaking a finger and another almost drowning in a hot tub, among other serious situations.
In another instance, O’Connor let an unlicensed drunk teen drive her car. Her son and another one of his friends then hung off the back while it was moving, which caused the friend to fall, hit his head, and become unconscious for 30 seconds. He was later diagnosed with a concussion after spending the night vomiting.
O’Connor is additionally accused of manipulating and encouraging drunk teens to participate in sex acts with one another, which were sometimes non-consensual or carried out while she watched. In some cases, she allegedly laughed while the sexual acts happened or when assault victims asked her why she didn’t step in to help.
Investigators added that O’Connor required teens who attended her parties to keep them a secret. She’s even accused of helping them sneak out of their homes so she could drive them to her events. Authorities said she was found to have bullied at least one teen who she suspected of breaking the secret.
“Everyone should feel relieved this woman’s not on the street,” the parents of one assault victim told The Mercury News. “She was grooming these kids, setting them up for sexual acts, and she’s a mother and doing this to her own child. … I’ve been racking my brain trying to think what was in it for her.“