Along-side jails and nursing homes, meatpacking plants have become a major hotspot for COVID-19 infections.
In the United States, there’s a rising number of outbreaks of COVID-19 in the meatpacking and poultry processing industries. This outbreak affecting thousands resulted in closures and disruptions of the aforementioned factories, posing a very large threat to the meat and food industry. President Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act to restart these facilities as soon as possible.
As of the 1st of May, almost 2,000 workers in 19 states had fallen ill. And with 20 deaths, many argue that restarting these facilities isn’t the right decision. On the other hand, closing these facilities would result in severe food shortages. Food is extremely critical in times like these, amidst the pandemic.
How does COVID-19 thrive in meatpacking plants?
With bitter-cold temperatures, cramped working conditions and the handling of raw meat, it doesn’t seem absurd to say that these are the perfect conditions for the spread of the virus.
As this study, which looks at 80,981 cases, shows, the optimum temperature for virus transmission is 10˚C (50˚F). With the average temperature of meat plants being around 12˚C (53.6˚F), this allows the virus to spread at almost the fastest rate. On top of this, with the cramped working conditions, it makes the virus pass to other workers extremely easily.
While this virus does have tangential connections to the way meat is produced and consumed across the globe, it may be possible that the virus can attach to the meat which is being packed and spread to many households. But there isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove that the virus can attach to meat in this way.
Should meatpacking plants be shut?
Meat is a primary staple for 89% of the world’s population. Shutting meat plants will be detrimental to the food industry as it will lead to shortages and thus cause inflated prices. This will affect many families living with low or no pay. Since the start of this pandemic, unemployment levels have risen to a record high. As a result, overpriced food will definitely cause huge problems.
Meatpacking plants should not stay closed. Instead, they should open and should employ new techniques such as social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.
Meatpacking and processing factories have very optimised factory production techniques. Mainly focussing on minimising workplace accidents, these techniques are encouraging the spread of the virus. As a result, to prevent this spread, these techniques need to be further optimised.
Companies need to use this pandemic as an example to further improve their workflows. Just like how the 9/11 incident drastically improved air safety, COVID-19 should improve workflows to prevent virus outbreaks like this causing disruptions. Potentially even preventing outbreaks happening again in the future.