Nebraska health officials stop reporting COVID-19 confirmations at meatpacking plants as case counts continue to rise

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Workers leave the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Logansport, Indiana, on May 7, 2020. Michael Conroy/AP Photo
  • Meatpacking plants around the US are hotspots for coronavirus cases.
  • As of early May in Nebraska alone, public health officials reported 96 at the Tyson plant in Madison, 237 at the JBS plant in Grand Island, and 123 arising from the Smithfield plant in Crete, The Washington Post reported.
  • As the cases climbed, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced the state would stop reporting infection numbers.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Hundreds of employees at Nebraska meatpacking plants have fallen ill – and some have died – from COVID-19, according to the Washington Post.

As of the first week of May, public health officials reported 96 infections at the Tyson plant in Madison, 237 at the JBS plant in Grand Island, and 123 arising from the Smithfield plant in Crete.

Then, as the numbers continued to rise, the state stopped releasing them.

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced at a news conference last week that state health officials would no longer share how many workers have been infected at each plant. The plants weren’t releasing the numbers either, and employees and their families were left in the dark, The Post reported.

“What are you hiding?” Vy Mai, whose grandfather died of the novel coronavirus told The Post. “If the ‘essential’ workers are being treated fairly and protected at meatpacking plants, why aren’t we allowed to know the numbers?”

Mai’s grandfather was exposed to coronavirus by her aunt and uncle who were employed at a Smithfield plant in Crete, The Post reported.

Meatpacking plants have produced clusters of coronavirus outbreaks around the country.President Donald Trump has ordered the facilities to stay open to ensure the food supply isn’t interrupted, but employees have told Business Insider that a lack of safeguards and a systemic work-while-sick culture puts their lives at risk.

When Ricketts stopped announcing the cases, has said he was doing so because the numbers can be unreliable, according to The Post.

He recommended that local health departments withhold the case counts unless they get permission from the plants.

The company officials declined to share numbers, citing privacy concerns and the fast-moving nature of the virus. They note that they are implementing worker protections at their plants, The Post said.

Shortly after The Post story was published, however, Tyson and Elkhorn Logan Valley health officials announced the results of testing at the company’s plant in Madison, Nebraska.

Of the employees and contractors who work there, 212 tested positive for the coronavirus, The Post reported.