Well, it was bound to happen.
With COVID-19 causing both massive runs on food in grocery stores and a concerning shortage of farmworkers, keeping the food industry producing food is a significant concern. That isn’t going to get any easier now that the first employee at a meat plant has tested positive for the virus, according to Reuters.
The company involved, Sanderson Farms, is one of the largest poultry producers in the United States. The company told Reuters that the person who tested positive worked at a single small processing table in a Mississippi plant. As a result of the positive test, the company says that the employee and six others who work nearby were sent home to self-isolate—with pay, thankfully—and the entire area was cleaned thoroughly.
Meat processing is a difficult industry during this COVID-19 pandemic, because producing food is both essential and basically impossible to do remotely. Despite the country rampaging through grocery stores to stock up, supplies of food have not actually been interrupted very much to this point; if stores are empty now, it’s simply because they’ve sold out and are waiting for regular deliveries.
But because sales are so high right now, the major meat processing companies in the US faced criticism for securing huge profits while employees are paid the same in suddenly more dangerous environments. Earlier this week, Tyson Foods announced that it would pay a slight premium to farmers and ranchers for their goods, to make up part of that gap.
In any case, coronavirus carriers in meat processing plants are not considered any greater public health risks than coronavirus carriers anywhere else. Theoretically, meat processing plants are required to be quite clean, with employees using protective gear like masks and gloves, and the USDA says that its own food inspections (which include meat) will go on as before.