May 5, 2020

The Coronavirus and Meat-Processing Plants

I just saw a news report of another coronavirus outbreak at a pork-processing plant. It’s time to think more carefully about the significance of such outbreaks, which are becoming all-to-common and, potentially, are threatening our meat supply.

When it is discovered that, say, a pork-processing plant has hundreds of coronavirus-infected workers in a town that was not thought to be greatly threatened by the current pandemic, we should be worried. News and commentary have suggested that plant workers will go to their homes and infect family members or other people they encounter. This is assuredly a threat.

But the situation is worse than we might imagine. How did so many workers become infected in the first place? Surely, the virus did not come into the plant in hog carcasses. Instead, one or more employees must have brought the virus into the workplace, and that person or persons were in close contact with co-workers on the processing line. In other words, the virus was circulating in the area before the outbreak occurred in the plant. That plant, however, was a perfect incubator for multiplying infections.

We must stop thinking of outbreaks of coronavirus in meat-processing plants as isolated incidents. Instead, they are canaries in the coal mine. We need to ramp up testing rapidly to discover how desperate matters actually are.

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