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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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Florida Cracks Down on “Vaccine Tourism”

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  • Florida is now requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 
  • The state has been hit with “vaccine tourism” as many people, predominantly wealthy individuals, fly to the state from other parts of the U.S. and abroad just to get the shot. 
  • So far, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses administered in Florida went to out-of-staters, though it is unclear if all those people were tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.

Florida Requires Proof of Residency

Florida is cracking down on “vaccine tourism” and requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get a COVID-19 shot.

Previously the state was allowing anyone 65 and older, including non-residents, to get the vaccine. This resulted in people flying to the Sunshine State from across the U.S. and abroad just for the purpose of receiving it. 

According to state data, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses Florida has administered have gone to out-of-staters. It is unclear if all these out-of-staters are tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents. 

Now, people must show a form of identification like a driver’s license or mortgage payment to receive it. Exceptions will be made for healthcare workers. 

Vaccine Supply Continues to Be Limited

Wealthy people in particular were quick to schedule travel plans to Florida for this reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was an influx of Canadians booking private jets to Florida. Some were looking to book flights there and back on the same day, leaving just enough time for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, people in Florida and across the country are waiting in long lines and struggling to book appointments on glitching websites to get their shots. Vaccine supply continues to be incredibly limited and not everyone in high-risk groups have received them.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this rule is not made to impact snowbirds, people who live in Florida during the winter to escape cold weather up north. 

“They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine, DeSantis said, according to CNN. “What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Travel + Leisure)

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Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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