Occupational Outbreaks Update: July 14

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Latest on outbreaks among poultry workers

There have been at least 3,306 infections among poultry workers in Arkansas, 434 of which are known to be currently ill. At least 18 of these poultry workers have died and 158 workers have been hospitalized.

Since last week, an additional 398 poultry workers were diagnosed with Covid-19. Plants with the most new cases over the past week are:

Tyson, Clarksville: 32 new

OK Foods, Fort Smith: 32 new

George’s, Springdale: 29 new

Wayne Farms, Danville: 25 new

All other plants reported fewer than 20 new cases.

The CDC released a report last week that gave a broader look at the outbreak among poultry and meat processing workers in the U.S. Reviewing data from 21 states, it reported at least 17,358 Covid-19 cases among workers. At least 91 workers have died.  Of note: Arkansas did not provide data from its outbreak to the CDC so is not included in these totals.

Other investigative groups have more thorough information, but it’s still likely not a full picture. The Food and Environmental Reporting Network lists 32,151 cases and 151 deaths among meatpackers. The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting has said Tyson and JBS (Pilgrims Pride) have the most cases tied to meat processing facilities for a combined 12,409 cases.

The CDC report concluded that minorities, particularly Hispanic and Asian workers, are being disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 in the processing facilities. Here’s a breakdown of workers by race and ethnicity included in the study:

  • White: 39% of the workforce but 13% of the cases
  • Hispanic: 30% of the workforce but 56% of the cases
  • African American: 25% of the workforce but 19% of the cases
  • Asian: 6% of the workforce but 12% of the cases.

Bringing that home to Arkansas, ADH reports that Hispanic workers make up 51% of the poultry workers who have been infected with Covid 19. However, the state is missing race and ethnicity data on 25% of the workers, so that number could be higher or lower.

The CDC report lists interventions adopted by meat processing plants (again, Arkansas’ plants aren’t included). The interventions included (in descending order of the % of plants that adopted them): temperature/symptom screening, face masks, hand hygiene stations, education, physical barriers between workers, staggered shifts, testing, removed attendance bonuses, temporary closure, slower processing speeds, and decreased crowding on transportation. None reported altering processes to keep employees six feet apart.

 

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Several workers advocacy groups have filed a civil rights complaint with the USDA alleging that Tyson Foods and JBS (Pilgrims Pride) have discriminated against minority workers during the pandemic. (Read the complaint) The two firms are subject to civil rights regulations specifically because they have each received hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts from USDA over the past year (almost $200 million 2019-current for JBS/Pilgrims Pride and around $275 million for Tyson).

The complaint states that poultry plants are actually increasing supply compared to this time last year when there was no pandemic to consider. USDA data through May 31 shows that the amount of beef and chicken in cold storage increased compared to the same period last year while the pork inventory represented 74% of the amount at the end of May 2019. On June 6, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue reported that meat processing plants “are operating more than 95% of their average capacity compared to this time last year.”

From the complaint: “Meat processors met U.S. domestic demand, increased exports, and maintained the cold storage inventory, and achieved all of this at the expense of Black, Latino, and Asian workers disproportionately contracting and dying from COVID-19.”

Other notes from the Occupational Report

Several businesses were removed from the list, meaning they are reporting fewer than 5 active cases. These are: Southeast Poultry in Rogers, TMC Logistics in Bentonville, and Tyson Mexican Original in Fayetteville. Tyson in Broken Bow, Okla., is back on the list after falling off last week.

Evergreen Packaging in Pine Bluff is new to the list with 19 total cases, 7 of which are considered active. ConAgra in Russellville had 29 new cases for total of 51.

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Rob Wells

Rob Wells, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Journalism at the University of Arkansas School of Journalism and Strategic Media.

ABOUT ARKANSAS COVID


The University of Arkansas School of Journalism and Strategic Media operates this site as an independent source of news and as a community service for Arkansas residents. Students produce the content here under the supervision of Rob Wells, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Journalism. The data presented here is collected at roughly the same time each day from the Arkansas Department of Health website.

Questions? Email arkansascovid@gmail.com