Packing plants must step up anti-virus steps, UNMC survey shows

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Experience since March has dramatically shown that meatpacking plants are especially vulnerable to becoming COVID-19 hot spots. That’s been the case in the Midlands and across the country. In fact, a host of packing plants all over the world have had to shut down temporarily in an effort to mitigate spread of the coronavirus.

Minimizing exposure risks at packing plants is a key step for any U.S. state to contain its virus threat.

A new survey of packing plant workers by the University of Nebraska Medical Center shows that plants in Nebraska have made progress, but they still must address remaining shortcomings: ensuring social distancing at work, and fulfilling commitments to provide paid time off.

Of the 600 workers surveyed by UNMC, only a minority – 39% – said their plants had spaced out workers on the production line and in common areas such as cafeterias and locker rooms. Social distancing is necessary to bolster the protection offered by steps the plants have taken: providing masks, checking workers’ temperatures and posting COVID-19 info, said Athena Ramos, an assistant professor at UNMC who works at the Center for Reducing Health Disparities and crafted the survey.

In addition, it must be communicated at all levels at a plant that workers can stay home if sick rather than feeling obligated to come to work. “Making sure that everybody has access to paid time off is a really critical strategy for stopping the spread of COVID-19,” Ramos told The World-Herald.

The toll from the coronavirus has been especially severe in packing plant communities including Grand Island, Schuyler and Dakota City. The more that packing companies step up their actions to contain the virus threat, the better for those businesses, their communities and Nebraska as a whole. This is no time to let up in the fight against the virus.