More than 16,000 workers at meat and poultry processing plants in 23 states were diagnosed with coronavirus through May 31, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The industry, deemed critical infrastructure by President Trump, employs approximately 525,000 people throughout the U.S. The CDC found a COVID-19 diagnosis rate of 9.1 percent of workers among the 14 states reporting the total number of workers in affected meat and poultry processing facilities.
The CDC reports 86 COVID-related deaths. That's compared to 20 deaths and 4,913 cases the CDC had recorded as of April 27.
"Distinctive factors that increase meat and poultry processing workers' risk for exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, include prolonged close workplace contact with coworkers (within 6 feet for ≥15 minutes) for long time periods (8–12 hour shifts), shared work spaces, shared transportation to and from the workplace, congregate housing, and frequent community contact with fellow workers," the CDC said.
The families of some workers who died after contracting COVID-19 are suing their employers. The family of Pennsylvania JBS slaughterhouse employee, 70-year-old Enock Benjamin, filed a wrongful death suit in May, alleging he contracted coronavirus while working under unsafe conditions without proper personal protective equipment.
Some plants had to go offline for sanitization in April and May because of coronavirus outbreaks. The CDC recommends meat processing companies take steps like "implementing worker temperature or symptom screening and COVID-19 education, mandating face coverings, adding hand hygiene stations, and adding physical barriers between workers."