July 9, 2020

CDC: Racial, Ethnic Minorities May Be Disproportionately Affected by COVID-19 in Meat and Poultry Processing

A new report published this week by CDC documenting COVID-19 outbreaks among workers at meat and poultry processing facilities across the United States finds “a disproportionate burden of illness and death” among racial and ethnic minority workers infected by COVID-19. The report examines aggregate data on confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths reported through May 31 from 239 affected facilities in 23 states. According to researchers, 16,233 workers contracted COVID-19 during April and May, including 86 workers who died from the disease. Among the 9,919 workers whose race/ethnicity was reported, approximately 56 percent were Hispanic, 19 percent were Black, 13 percent were white, and 12 percent were Asian.

“Targeted workplace interventions and prevention efforts that are appropriately tailored to the groups most affected by COVID-19 are critical to reducing both COVID-19-associated occupational risk and health disparities among vulnerable populations,” the report states. “Implementation of these interventions and prevention efforts across meat and poultry processing facilities nationally could help protect workers in this critical infrastructure industry.”

Researchers urge continued efforts to better understand the effects of the pandemic on the health of racial and ethnic minority workers.

CDC’s new report also collects information about interventions and prevention efforts implemented at meat and poultry processing facilities. Commonly reported actions included screening workers’ temperature or symptoms on entry, mandating face coverings, adding hand hygiene stations, educating workers on COVID-19, and installing physical barriers between workers. Among 111 facilities in 14 states, 37 percent offered SARS-CoV-2 testing to workers and 24 percent reported closing temporarily as an intervention measure.

A previous CDC report published on May 8 focused on 115 meat and poultry processing facilities across 19 states and quantified the extent of disease spread at those workplaces between April 9 and April 27. The agency found that more than 4,900 meat and poultry processing workers had contracted COVID-19 and 20 workers had died from the disease during that time. The earlier report also identified several challenges to effective prevention and control of COVID-19 at the facilities, such as difficulty imposing distance between workers and implementing disinfection guidelines for the disease.

In late April, OSHA and CDC published joint interim guidance intended to protect workers at meat and poultry processing facilities from exposure to COVID-19. And on April 28, President Trump signed an executive order to ensure that these facilities remain open during the pandemic, despite outbreaks of COVID-19 at several plants across the country.

The CDC/OSHA guidance was recently updated on July 9. More information about the agencies’ recommendations for protecting meat and poultry processing workers from COVID-19 is available on CDC’s website.

Related:By the Numbers” in the June/July issue of The Synergist presents data from the May 8 report on COVID-19 at meat and poultry processing facilities.