The number of COVID-19 cases in America’s meat and poultry plants is continuing to rise, according to a new report issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week. Examining aggregate data on confirmed cases through May 31, the agency found 16,233 meat and poultry processing workers have become infected with the virus and 86 have died at 239 facilities across 23 states.
“High population-density workplace settings such as meat and poultry processing facilities present ongoing challenges to preventing and reducing the risk for SARS-CoV-2 transmission,” the report’s authors wrote. “Collaborative implementation of interventions and prevention efforts, which might include comprehensive testing strategies, could help reduce COVID-19-associated occupational risk.”
In the data set from 23 states, 87% of cases involved people who are in a racial or ethnic minority. The authors suggest that “targeted, workplace-specific prevention strategies” could make conditions safer for vulnerable population groups.
Some 525,000 workers are employed at about 3,500 animal slaughtering and processing operations in the US, according to the CDC. Some states did not contribute data on the number of COVID-19 cases in local meat and poultry processing facilities.
The CDC said that meat and poultry plants have a number of “distinctive factors” that increase workers’ risk of exposure to the coronavirus, like long periods of close contact with coworkers, common workspaces, and shared transportation.
“Lessons learned from investigating outbreaks of COVID-19 in meat and poultry processing facilities could inform investigations in other food production and agriculture workplaces to help prevent and reduce COVID-19 transmission among all workers in these essential industries,” the authors said.
Data released by the United Food and Commercial Workers international Union (UFCW) in late June revealed that 14,214 meatpacking workers represented by the union have become ill with the coronavirus since the pandemic started.
Another data set released by the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN) last month found that more than 32,000 food processing, meatpacking, and farm workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in the US since April 22.