COVID-19 wallops meat plant workers; shortages hit shelves, fast food

Enlarge / Smithfield Foods pork plant in South Dakota is closed indefinitely in the wake of its coronavirus outbreak. (credit: Getty | Kerem Yucel)

Meat- and poultry-processing facilities have become hotspots for COVID-19 outbreaks, with cases spreading in over 100 plants across the country.

Federal and state public health researchers reported Friday, May 1, that at least 115 meat and poultry plants in 19 states have had been affected by the pandemic. In all, the researchers counted at least 4,913 sickened workers and at least 20 deaths. The findings are likely an undercount given different testing strategies at facilities and the fact that some facilities did not submit any data.

For instance, the only data researchers had from Iowa indicated that only 377 workers in two plants in the state had been sickened. But on Tuesday, May 5, Iowa health officials announced that there were at least 1,653 cases from four plants that had outbreaks—meaning 10 percent or more of the workforce had been sickened.

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