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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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.
Texas GOP votes to hold 6,000+ in-person convention in state’s COVID-19 hotspot
On Thursday night, the Texas Republican Party voted to crowd 6,000 people into its state convention from July 16 to 18. The vote came on the same day that Texas reported nearly 8,000 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19, its second highest-ever daily toll of new cases.
The convention will be hosted at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. Houston sits within Harris County, the Texas county that has the highest number of overall coronavirus cases. The Texas Medical Association and the Texas Brewers Guild have both withdrawn their support as sponsors as a result of the decision to hold a convention in-person rather than virtually.
CNN reports, “The Texas Republican Party said the convention will have multiple precautions and safety measures for attendees, including thermal scanners at entrances and hand sanitizer stations throughout the convention. Meeting areas will be “deep-cleaned thoroughly” between gatherings and there will be expanded seating allowing attendees to social distancing….Donated masks will be available.”
It’s unclear if state party leaders will require attendees to wear face masks as legally required by a July 2 executive order signed by Abbott that requires all Texans to wear face masks in public (or else to face a $250 fine). It’s unlikely though that Houston police would actively persecute the governor’s own party to enforce his order, even if it did mean potentially preventing a fresh COVID-19 outbreak.
During the 2020 meeting, state Republicans will likely draft a new state party platform. It remains to be seen whether they will keep the 2018 state platform planks that opposed same-sex marriage (three years after it became nationally legalized), supported so-called ex-gay conversion therapy, denying medical care and civil rights to transgender youth, repealing all hate crime legislation, and the right of “religious” businesses owners to refuse service to LGBTQ people without facing any legal consequences.
As of July 3, Texas ranks third among all U.S. states for the highest overall number of COVID-19 cases. Here are some Twitter reactions to the Texas GOP’s decision to host an in-person convention during a global pandemic.
5 days after attending his county party convention, this 75-year-old Texas GOP official was admitted to the hospital with COVID-19. He ultimately died. This is a warning sign for the GOP as it continues w large, mask-less indoor conventions and rallies. https://t.co/3vX1RKhlIW
— Atul Gawande (@Atul_Gawande) June 29, 2020
Texas Republican National Convention is coming to Houston in two weeks. Upwards of 6000 people are expected to be inside the George R. Brown convention center. GRB, run by Houston First Corp @HoustonFirst, says they can not mandate masks b/c it wasn't in the original contract.
— Anti Trump Texans (@AntiTrumpTexans) July 1, 2020
Among a huge surge in COVID-19 cases in Texas, Gov. Abbott (R) has no plans to ban indoor gatherings, including the Texas Republican Party’s convention in Houston.
— 🐾Angie K 💙🔬🧫 (@angie_keathly) June 28, 2020
— BDM 77007 (@ablondewun1) July 1, 2020
‘I Can’t Imagine Why’: Trump Refuses Responsibility for Spike in Poisonings After ‘Disinfectant Injection’ Comments
President Donald Trump is refusing to take any responsibility for the massive increase in calls to poison control centers after he mused last week that an “injection” of disinfectant might cure people of coronavirus, and urged doctors to test his theory.
“Theyu’ve seen a spike in people using disinfectant after your comment last week,” reporter Brian Karem told the President.
“I know you said they were ‘sarcastic’ –” Karem offered, but was immediately interrupted by Trump.
“I can’t imagine why, can’t imagine why, yeah,” the President claimed.
Asked if he would “take any responsibility,” Trump responded, “No I don’t,” but quickly added, “I can’t imagine why,” again, obviously eager to avoid the national outrage after the last time he said he took no responsibility.
He then blew off the reporter and went to another.
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 27, 2020
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