In Texas, workers at meatpacking plants are fearing for their health. After weeks of significant COVID-19 outbreaks at plants around the nation, companies are reopening doors to their plants just weeks after thousands of meat industry workers contracted the dangerous virus. In the Texas Panhandle, an explosion of coronavirus cases has been attributed to meatpacking plants. Yet, the government is not planning on taking special social distancing measures to reduce the number of cases in this area. Instead, it's taking an approach that's focused on reopening the state's economy.
How the Texas Government Is Responding to Meatpacking COVID-19 Outbreaks
However, Governor Greg Abbot has said that he is not planning on stricter stay-at-home rules for Amarillo and the surrounding communities that the virus is thriving in. Instead, he's having residents in these areas rely on "surge response teams." These teams are made up of health officials, emergency response workers, and the National Guard. Their assignment is to deal with "flare-ups" of COVID-19, such as the ones seen around meatpacking plants. The teams are supposed to facilitate testing, verify sanitation at meatpacking facilities, and address other issues related to the transmission of COVID-19.
"There is a challenge in the Panhandle because of either a or several meatpacking plants up there," Abbott told the press. "There is a need for a surge response team to go in there to provide all the resources that are needed to get that area under containment."
Now, state officials are trying to work out how to control the COVID-19 situation involving five meat plants and about 12,000 workers.
The JBS Meatpacking Plant in Cactus Has Had Significant Viral Outbreaks
Just north of Amarillo, Moore County has new COVID-19 rates outpacing every other county in Texas. The county is having COVID-19 cases develop at a rate that's 13 times higher than the state's most populous county. The JBS meatpacking facility in Cactus is one of the epicenters for the area's COVID-19 cases. The small town around the plant has developed into a COVID-19 cluster, with 243 people testing positive for the virus and one death.
Cactus isn't the only town suffering from the JBS COVID-19 outbreak—many of its workers are shuttled to the plant from nearby parts of Texas and Oklahoma. In Amarillo, health officials have revealed that over 1,000 COVID-19 cases in Potter and Randall counties can be traced back to meatpacking plants.
Did JBS & Other Companies Do Enough to Protect Workers from COVID-19?
The outbreaks in Texas mirror those seen at meatpacking plants throughout the United States and Canada. Tight working spaces, shared equipment, and long hours around others have made meat processing facilities perfect incubators for a viral outbreak. Now, as plants scramble to reopen under a Trump administration order, workers are fearful that their companies won't do enough to protect them.
At the Cactus JBS plant, workers accused management of being slow to acknowledge when employees started testing positive for COVID-19. As workers weren't being informed of their contact with infected individuals, rumors started spreading amongst them. They had to rely on word of mouth to check in on their sick colleagues and try to figure out who was at risk of getting sick next. Those who weren't sick feared for their life and for their employment.
"The people who do show up to work are afraid to get sick, but we don't have much of a choice," one anonymous worker told the Texas Tribune.
Meatpacking COVID-19 Outbreaks Harm Entire Communities
The most concerning part about COVID-19 outbreaks such as the one at the JBS facility isn't just the hundreds of sick workers—it's the people outside of the plant they unknowingly transmitted the virus to. Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson initially attributed the spread of the virus throughout the community to meatpacking plants. Nelson has also emphasized that the spread has been difficult to track. With so many workers bused in from surrounding counties, her government doesn't have the jurisdiction to track the virus's spread from meat processing facilities accurately. One thing is certain: as industry giants like Tyson Foods and JBS send their workers to the frontlines of a pandemic, they need to protect workers at all costs.
"I'm grateful that [plant workers have] been willing to go to work. I mean they are critical to our nation's food supply, so what we need is help in strategies and supplies and resources to keep them working, to keep the food supply open," Nelson said in a statement. "And we need some assistance in strategizing the safest way to do that both for our community and for those workers."
If you or someone you know became ill from COVID-19 while working at a Cactus, TX meatpacking plant, help is available. Arnold & Itkin's Texas COVID-19 lawsuit lawyers offer free consultations when you dial (888) 493-1629. You deserve a voice, and we're ready to fight back against large companies to make sure you have one.