Texas meatpacking plants are packing on the high coronavirus rates

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Among the industries affected by COVID-19 is the meat-processing industry—which becomes problematic for plant workers at risk of falling ill in a struggling economy.

While the largest number of infections in Texas are in Harris, Dallas, and Tarrant Counties, the highest rates of infection, per capita, have generally been in rural counties near the panhandle and border with Louisiana. In 12 of those counties with the highest rates in the state: Six are in the panhandle, and four are in East Texas.

Those higher infection rates have seemingly concentrated around two particular counties—Moore County, which has the state’s highest rate of infection with 13 cases every 1,000 people, and Shelby County on the Louisiana border, which has a rate of three infections every 1,000 people. Both counties also house large meat-processing facilities. 

JBS Beef’s large packing plant is in Moore County and has 159 infections to date. Shelby County houses Tyson Foods chicken-processing facility, and already has 56 cases. 

Both areas also have low median incomes and a general lack of health insurance coverage, according to the Deloitte and Data USA web tool on the coronavirus, which can increase the infection rate. 

Companies like Tyson Foods were considering keeping 20 percent of their facilities open, but Trump announced today that he will be signing an executive order to keep meat processing plants open during the coronavirus pandemic, under the Defense Production Act.

It is still unclear if meatpacking facilities across Texas have union protections or not, even though unions have been working to especially get workers more pay over the past few months. In March, Local 540, a union in Dallas, was able to secure hourly pay increases and bonuses for more than 6,000 Texas workers in five plants. The parent company of Local 540, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), represents around 250,000 food processing plant workers.

Photo: Texas State Archives/ Wikimedia Commons

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