One Year In, COVID Rates in Meat Sector 85% Lower Than General Population

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WASHINGTON, DC — Nearly one year after the first reported cases of COVID-19 among meat and poultry workers, comprehensive protections have brought case rates to just 2.67 cases per day per 100,000 workers — more than 85 percent lower than rates in the general population (18.25 cases per day per 100,000 people) and more than 98 percent lower than the May 2020 peak in the sector (98.39 cases per day per 100,000 workers).

North American Meat Institute (Meat Institute) President and CEO Julie Anna Potts will discuss the latest COVID-19 data, effectiveness of protection measures implemented since spring 2020, and the sector’s advocacy for urgently expanded vaccinations during an executive roundtable March 23 at the Annual Meat Conference. The Annual Meat Conference is sponsored by the Meat Institute’s Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education and FMI, the Food Industry Association. Attendance is free, register here.

Also participating in the roundtable will be: Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of Albertsons Companies Susan Morris, President of Cargill Protein North America Jon Nash, President of The GIANT Company Nicholas Bertram, and President and Chief Operating Officer of the OSI Group David McDonald.

Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts commented:

“Frontline meat and poultry workers were among the first impacted by the pandemic, but comprehensive protections implemented in the sector since spring 2020 work. The critical next step is to ensure immediate access to vaccines as this dedicated and diverse workforce continues feeding Americans and keeping our farm economy working.”

According to data from the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN), there were just 4.81 new reported cases per 100,000 meat and poultry workers per day in February 2021, compared with 26.15 cases per 100,000 people in the general U.S. population (New York Times).

Independent scientific research proves the effectiveness of COVID-19 prevention measures implemented in the sector since spring 2020. The University of Nebraska Medical Center found that the combination of universal masking and physical barriers reduced cases significantly in 62 percent of meat facilities studied. An analysis published in the Lancet in June 2020 found that distancing of 3 feet and use of facemasks each reduce transmission by about 80 percent, and use of eye protection reduces transmission by about 65 percent.

A February 2021 Meat Institute survey of more than 250 facilities employing more than 150,000 workers found broad implementation of multilayered COVID-19 protections including:

  • COVID-19 hazard assessments; designated COVID-19 coordinators
  • Entry screening measures and controls
  • Increased sanitation and disinfection practices
  • Training and education materials on COVID-19 symptoms and prevention, in multiple languages
  • Mandatory face coverings
  • Increased flexibility in leave policies
  • Physical barriers in food production and other areas (e.g., break rooms, cafeterias)

Meat Institute members are fully committed to continuing these proven measures and providing their support to vaccinate frontline meat and poultry workers quickly and safely, and many can even assist in vaccine distribution for all Americans.

Find more information on case rates, health and safety measures, and vaccination here.

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