Meatpacking plants have become major epicenters for COVID-19 as businesses and workers have been pressured to keep up with food demand. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report Tuesday detailing the extent of coronavirus infections among meat processing employees.

According to the report, 9% of meatpacking plant employees in 14 states have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The CDC’s findings were based on responses from health departments in 28 states, five of which did not report any confirmed cases amongst their meatpacking workers.

As of May 31, 86 workers in 23 states died from causes linked to COVID-19, out of over 16,200 confirmed cases. Among the plants studied in the report, almost 240 reported at least one confirmed case. Eight-seven percent of these cases involved workers from racial or ethnic minorities.

The spread of the disease at these plants is attributed in the reported to their specific working conditions.

Meatpacking plants require workers to stand in close proximity for hours on end, preventing any sort of social distancing. Many plant workers also utilize shared transportation, further increasing the risk of transmission.

Due to outbreaks at plants run by food giants like Tyson and Cargill forcing closures, the production of poultry and red meat fell by 8% in April and 13% in May.

In the face of a potential meat shortage, President Trump in April invoked the Defense Production Act to prevent these plants from closing down.

Big-box retailer Costco is limiting consumer purchases of meat in the wake of shutdowns of US processing plants due to the coronavirus
Big-box retailer Costco. AFP / Joseph Prezioso