On April 28, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to ensure that workers at meat processing plants continue working throughout the ongoing coronavirus epidemic despite the crowded conditions that make such workplaces ripe for fresh COVID-19 outbreaks.
Tyson — one of the nation’s largest producers and marketers of chicken, beef, and pork — said on Wednesday that 570 of the 2,244 employees at its Wilkesboro, North Carolina complex have contracted confirmed cases of COVID-19, the virus that has killed nearly 96,370 Americans nationwide so far.
Tyson says many of the workers were asymptomatic. “The company has seen similar massive outbreaks, in the hundreds of cases, at its meat processing plants in Pasco, Washington; Madison, Nebraska; and Waterloo, Iowa,” VICE News writes.
The company has since closed two of the complex’s three processing plants to conduct a deep cleaning and has also placed the employees on paid leave as they remain in quarantine.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 5,000 meat plant workers across 19 states have tested positive for COVID-19. Smithfield, the largest pork producer in the United States, has also reported 783 coronavirus cases and two deaths among workers at its Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant.
While these cases and deaths occurred before Trump’s executive order, they show just how dangerous meatpacking plants are for employees and their families. Crowded conveyer belt workspaces make it impossible to maintain 6 feet of social distancing and the cold air makes it easier for the coronavirus to stay active on surfaces.
The workers also tend to be low-wage, immigrants who live in crowded homes and take public transit, two factors which can increase a person’s likelihood of contracting the virus.
On May 1, Jennifer McQuiston, a top CDC official, said 115 meat and processing facilities in 23 states have reported coronavirus cases. Trump’s executive order allows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to step in and force a meat plant to stay open even if a state government tries to shut it down as a public health hazard.
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COVID-Denying GOP Head Infects 4 Family Members After Attending Maskless White House Party
Tom Mountain, the mask-denying vice chairman of the Massachusetts GOP’s governing body who attended a largely maskless Hanukkah party at the White House on December 9, has since infected four of his family members with COVID-19.
Mountain’s wife pleaded with him not to attend the party over fears that he’d get infected with the virus. He has since given her the virus as well as his son, his daughter-in-law, and his mother-in-law.
Regarding wearing face masks, Mountain said, “I was one of the naysayers,” adding, “I am no longer a naysayer,” and “My family tried to dissuade me. I didn’t listen.”
Mountain said he was “politically and morally obligated to go” to the party, but apparently didn’t think he was morally obligated to wear a facemask to avoid infecting his wife and elderly mother-in law.
He said of his fellow partygoers, “People would just leisurely and gingerly take off their mask to mingle, to schmooze. I don’t even think some people wore masks the entire time. And again, I was guilty as anyone else. I just wasn’t wearing a mask.”
The party also flouted COVID-19 prevention guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which encouraged small, limited gatherings rather than one with 100 or more people, like the White House’s Hannukah party.
Thoughts and prayers.
Trump’s New Immigration Rules Will Kill Hundreds of LGBTQ and HIV-Positive Asylum Seekers
On Thursday, the Trump Administration’s Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice finalized rule changes that are supposedly meant to “streamline” immigration hearings to make legal proceedings occur much more quickly. In reality, the pro-LGBTQ immigration non-profit, Immigration Equality says, the rule changes make it much harder for LGBTQ or HIV-positive refugees to get asylum in the United States.
One rule change gives all asylum seekers one chance and only one chance to declare their LGBTQ or HIV-positive identity to an asylum hearing judge. If they don’t, they can never bring it up again or re-file a case stating that they’re seeking asylum to escape queer-phobic abuse or anti-HIV stigma in their home countries.
“The Proposed Rule guts the U.S. asylum system by rewriting asylum law without authorization from Congress and upending decades of legal precedent,” Immigration Equality said in a statement. “This unprecedented bar would require applicants to immediately and clearly articulate every cognizable PSG (particular social group) before the Immigration Judge or forever lose the opportunity to present it, even on a motion to reopen where an applicant relied on ineffective counsel.”
Persecuted queers and HIV-positive asylum seekers are often attacked by police, doctors and government officials in their home countries for revealing their identities. As such, many are often afraid to reveal these things to U.S. authorities for fear of further discrimination or abuse. Others will only reveal these personal details about themselves after months of feeling more comfortable and supported in the U.S. system.
Many refugees also lack the English-skills to articulate their membership within these persecuted groups, especially if their lawyer doesn’t encourage them to do so or doesn’t inform them that these particular social groups are eligible for asylum.
A second rule change says that asylum seekers have to prove that their treatment was systemic — that is, caused by a government policy or institutional discrimination rather than “personal animus and retribution” from an individual or group of individuals. They have to prove that the discrimination affected other members of their groups equally, which is difficult to substantively prove.
Furthermore, refugees can no longer list “gender” as a characteristic they were targeted for (something that would put transgender people particularly at risk) nor can asylum seekers say that they were persecuted for their “political opinions” or “cultural stereotypes,” a broad rule change that would exclude all manner of refugees, particularly queer ones who were harassed for their self-expression.
Lastly, refugees have to prove that they’ve already been persecuted — the mere threat of persecution would no longer be sufficient to get asylum — and that their persecution was pressing and “extreme.” Intermittent harassment and brief detentions no longer count as worthwhile factors for seeking asylum. Additionally, refugees must prove that they first tried to re-locate to a friendlier place inside of their home nation or tried to apply for asylum in whatever countries they crossed through before reaching the U.S., even if those countries are also anti-LGBTQ.
Judges can also now fast-track asylum hearings to quickly determine whether someone is eligible rather than holding a longer fact-finding discovery period to help develop a refugees’ reasons for seeking asylum in the United States. As such, these rule changes won’t just harm LGBTQ and HIV-positive people, but seem to have been crafted specifically to prevent thousands of refugees from getting asylum in the U.S., a longtime goal of the Trump Administration.
Trump Blocks CDC Head from Talking to Congress About the Dangers of Reopening Schools
On Friday, the Trump Administration blocked Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from testifying in front of Congress next week about the prospect of reopening schools during the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.
In a statement, an unnamed White House spokesperson said, “Dr. Redfield has testified on the Hill at least four times over the last three months. We need our doctors focused on the pandemic response.”
The move seems particularly alarming since the Trump Administration is pressuring schools nationwide to reopen in the fall even though coronavirus infections are much higher now than they were when schools first shut down.
In May, the Trump administration blocked the CDC from releasing a 17-page manual on helping schools re-open safely — CDC officials were told the guidelines would “never see the light of day.” Trump himself called it “not an acceptable answer” when infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said schools shouldn’t reopen in the fall.
Even though educators and teachers’ unions are worried about possible school outbreaks of COVID-19, and even though a recent study found nearly 70% of parents are worried about sending their kids back to school amid rising COVID-19 rates, Trump has said people only want to keep schools closed to hurt his re-election chances and has threatened to financially harm schools who don’t re-open.
His White House Press Secretary has even said that “science should not stand in the way” of schools reopening.
“It is alarming that the Trump administration is preventing the CDC from appearing before the committee at a time when its expertise and guidance is so critical to the health and safety of students, parents, and educators,” said Democratic Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, the chairman of the House Education & Labor Committee who invited Redfield to testify.
“This lack of transparency does a great disservice to the many communities across the country facing difficult decisions about reopening schools this fall,” Scott added.
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