Meat processing plants are COVID-19 hot spots. What does that mean for U.S. food supply?
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The meat processing and packing industry is one of the latest to reveal the scale of COVID-19 disruptions. With cases in factories and farms on the rise, the U.S. Labor Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are issuing joint guidelines to keep workers safe — and avoid further disruption to the nation’s meat supply.
Marketplace’s Nova Safo has the latest on the guidelines.
“They’re going to sound familiar to many of us,” he told Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams. “They include recommendations such as workers standing at least 6 feet apart, not congregating in areas such as entrances and break rooms, using cloth face coverings, implementing physical barriers like plexiglass between workers and screening employees for fever as they come in for work.”
But shouldn’t that be happening already?
“Well, it’s been happening as of recently, but some workers claim that these measures have been implemented too late,” Safo said.
“Keep in mind: These plants have had to keep operating because they’re considered part of the nation’s critical infrastructure. Many of the employees at these plants work in close proximity to each other for many hours at a time, so they are susceptible.”
A number of meat processing plants around the country have closed due to outbreaks. That’s putting pressure on the nation’s meat supply.
“The chairman of Tyson Foods, one of the biggest meat processors, just took out full-page ads over the weekend in The New York Times and Washington Post warning that millions of pounds of meat could ‘disappear’ from the supply chain,” Safo said.
That’s affecting the price of meat at the grocery store. At the same time, there are reports that farms are preparing to slaughter as many as 2 million chickens because they can’t process them — there’s nowhere to take them.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?
Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.
How has the pandemic changed scientific research?
Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.
What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?
Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”
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