Shuttered Meat-Processing Plants Are Coming Back Online. Here’s How They’re Protecting Workers

  • Tyson Foods reopened a plant in Waterloo, Iowa, after more than 1,000 workers at the facility tested positive for coronavirus, or COVID-19.
  • Sarah Little, a representative for the North American Meat Institute, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that President Donald Trump’s executive order mandating a reliable food supply has made a big difference in getting the plants reopened. 
  • Meat packers are placing dividers between workstations, deep-cleaning facilities and assigning so-called social distance monitors to maintain safety precautions.

Meat-processing plants are slowly coming back online after health officials shut them down, yet there is still disagreement over whether these safety precautions are different than those the plants employed before the closures.

Processing facilities and health officials deep-cleaned, sanitized and placed plastic dividers between workstations to help prevent future coronavirus infections, said Sarah Little, vice president of communications for the North American Meat Institute. She told the Daily Caller News Foundation that the measures are similar to what plants were doing before they closed.

Processing plants are “implementing CDC/OSHA Guidelines. But they were doing that before the guidelines even came out,” Little said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines plant owners were given after a rash of closings due to virus infections.

More than 238 Smithfield Foods employees at a plant in South Dakota, for instance, had active cases of the virus before the facility was temporarily closed. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem recommended in April that the company close its doors for two weeks after health officials began raising alarms. The plant in her state employs about 3,700 workers.

Tyson Foods, another major processor, also experienced a spat of infections at a plant in Iowa, forcing closures.

One-thousand thirty-one workers at the Waterloo, Iowa, plant, which employs 2,800 people, tested positive for coronavirus, or COVID-19, equaling 37% of the plant’s workforce, according to state officials. The virus originated in central China before hopping across the world, killing more than 271,000 people internationally.

Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson confirmed to the DCNF that the Iowa plant was back online as of Thursday.

The company is holding health screenings, assigning employees as social distance monitors and supplying facial coverings, spokesman Derek Burleson told Business Insider.

Even so, the country still has hemorrhaged about 38% of its total pork processing capacity, according to Steve Meyer, an economist at Kerns and Associates in Ames, Iowa. The lack of production prompted Costco, Hy-Vee and Walmart’s Sam’s Clubs to limit how much meat customers can purchase.

Workers in Waterloo will undergo a wellness screening before each shift, as well as repeated temperature checks and be required to wear face masks, Tyson Foods said.

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