On April 28, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to ensure that workers at meat processing plants continue working throughout the ongoing coronavirus epidemic despite the crowded conditions that make such workplaces ripe for fresh COVID-19 outbreaks.
Tyson — one of the nation’s largest producers and marketers of chicken, beef, and pork — said on Wednesday that 570 of the 2,244 employees at its Wilkesboro, North Carolina complex have contracted confirmed cases of COVID-19, the virus that has killed nearly 96,370 Americans nationwide so far.
Tyson says many of the workers were asymptomatic. “The company has seen similar massive outbreaks, in the hundreds of cases, at its meat processing plants in Pasco, Washington; Madison, Nebraska; and Waterloo, Iowa,” VICE News writes.
The company has since closed two of the complex’s three processing plants to conduct a deep cleaning and has also placed the employees on paid leave as they remain in quarantine.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 5,000 meat plant workers across 19 states have tested positive for COVID-19. Smithfield, the largest pork producer in the United States, has also reported 783 coronavirus cases and two deaths among workers at its Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant.
While these cases and deaths occurred before Trump’s executive order, they show just how dangerous meatpacking plants are for employees and their families. Crowded conveyer belt workspaces make it impossible to maintain 6 feet of social distancing and the cold air makes it easier for the coronavirus to stay active on surfaces.
The workers also tend to be low-wage, immigrants who live in crowded homes and take public transit, two factors which can increase a person’s likelihood of contracting the virus.
On May 1, Jennifer McQuiston, a top CDC official, said 115 meat and processing facilities in 23 states have reported coronavirus cases. Trump’s executive order allows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to step in and force a meat plant to stay open even if a state government tries to shut it down as a public health hazard.
‘Honestly, I think Trump wants to lose’: Bedminster press conference panned as campaign ‘self-sabotage’
President Donald Trump made lots of promises at a Friday evening press conference, but did not take any action.
The president made the comments from Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, where he arrived on Thursday for an extended weekend.
He held the press conference while allowing members of his private club to serve as an audience for his speech, which was announced by the White House but frequently veered into partisan electoral politics. Members were seen without masks and not social distancing, potentially in violation of New Jersey regulations.
Trump's comments came after White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin "did not make any progress" in negotiations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
WATCH: Bedminster members cheer when Trump praises them for refusing to social distance
Donald Trump received loud applause from the members at his private club who had gathered as an audience for his presidential address.
Trump was asked why the audience at Bedminster Golf Club was not social distancing, with many seen without maks.
The leader of the free world replied that the event -- officially announced by the White House -- was a political rally and a peaceful protest.
The audience cheered his comments, as he complained about fake news.
Coronavirus deaths in Latin America hit global high
Latin America and the Caribbean surpassed Europe on Friday to become the region hardest-hit by coronavirus deaths, as India passed the sombre step of recording over two million infections.
The world's worst-hit region had reported 213,120 fatalities, 460 more than Europe, according to an AFP tally based on official data registered at 1700 GMT.
Worldwide there have been more than 19 million cases and over 715,000 deaths from the virus first reported in China at the end of last year.
The virus has flared up again in areas where it appeared to have been curbed, but it has steadily spread across sprawling territories in India and Africa.