Smithfield knows who is to blame for the coronavirus outbreak at its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, pork processing plant, and it is THE DAMN DIRTY IMMIGRANTS. Because you know how those people are, just hundreds of them separately coming down with a potentially deadly disease and bringing it into Smithfield's sterile abattoir to create one of the largest COVID-19 clusters in the country. If only they would take care of their families like good, solid Americans!

"Living circumstances in certain cultures are different than they are with your traditional American family," a spokesperson for the multi-billion dollar pork giant told BuzzFeed. Blaming the factory's "large immigrant population," she said it was hard to know "what could have been done differently." Sure they could have closed the plant for cleaning and to reconfigure the line when the first employee was diagnosed with the virus sometime around March 20. They could have divulged that information to the workers standing shoulder to shoulder on the line, instead of waiting to confirm it until the local Argus Leader broke the story on March 26 after a tipoff from a child of workers at the plant. But it would have been unethical to jeopardize the nation's food supply until several hundred employees had become sick. People need their scrapple!


The company cited an interview Governor Kristi "Personal Responsibility" Noem gave to Fox News as evidence that the immigrants brought disease into the factory — and not the other way around — "because a lot of these folks who work at this plant live in the same community, the same buildings, sometimes in the same apartments." And because the interview was on Fox, no evidence was needed for this statement, it was simply accepted as "proof."

In reality, there was quite a bit more that Smithfield's management could have done before the infection reached 725 workers and 143 people whose infections could be traced to contacts from the plant. According to the BBC, the local AFL-CIO requested PPE, temperature checks, staggered lunch schedules, and sanitation stations in early March, but the company blew them off.

As The Star Tribune reports, the JBS plant 30 minutes away in Worthington, Minnesota, supplied its workers with "gloves, surgical masks, face shields, overcoats," holding their infection rate down to 19. By contrast, Smithfield's PPE consisted of beard nets and cardboard cubicles in the cafeteria, so that when workers quit working shoulder-to-shoulder on the line, they could peel those protective hairnets off their faces and eat lunch alone without spreading germs. That's called being a good corporate citizen.

The BBC reports:

Smithfield instituted other changes, like building cardboard cubicles around lunch table seats to create a barrier between workers, staggering shifts, and putting out hand sanitiser stations. But multiple workers said - and photos sent to the BBC seem to confirm - that personal protective equipment came in the form of beard nets to wear over their faces, which do not protect from airborne particles like a surgical or N95 mask would.

And hairnets weren't the half of it. Smithfield posted a notice in March telling workers to go home if they felt sick. Although the notice was in English only, when safety messages meant to be understood by the largely immigrant workers were routinely translated into multiple languages. On April 1, the company started providing free lunch for all workers, as a gesture of appreciation which had the added benefit of ensuring that every person in the plant cycled through the cafeteria, which seats 500, each day. The company offered a $500 "responsibility bonus" for any worker who didn't miss a shift in the month of April. They erected a tent in the parking lot to take workers' temperatures on the way in, but union reps told the BBC that workers could simply avoid it and get their $500 bonus just by entering through a side door.

And on April 9, a mere 18 days after the first diagnosis at the plant, when infections had reached 238, Smithfield announced it was pausing operations for two days of deep cleaning. Which was true ... eventually. They had to let all the meat currently on the line go through, because worker safety is important, but not as important as profit.

The plant is now shut down indefinitely, putting thousands of employees out of work and leaving 550 family farms with no place to sell their hogs. But South Dakota, which currently has 1,685 coronavirus diagnosed cases, almost half of which are associated with the Smithfield facility, still has no statewide shutdown order. Neighboring North Dakota, which has a similar population and did force its citizens to stay home, has 627 cases. But Governor Noem remains certain that such an order would never have prevented the outbreak in Sioux Falls.

"That is absolutely false," she said, again citing absolutely zero evidence.

[BuzzFeed / BBC]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.

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