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The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) told CBS News this week that 145 employees were diagnosed with the coronavirus and an additional 130 are currently under self-quarantine as a precaution due to possible infection.
The three who died were based in New York, Chicago and Mississippi, according to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a union that represents food inspectors in the U.S.
“Every day there are inspectors going into facilities where there are known positive COVID-19 cases,” Paula Schelling, acting chairwoman of the union, told the network. “People are still going in there and doing inspection.”
Schelling said inspectors normally lack the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). She added that social distancing is impossible because “they must work nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with front-line plant employees.”
“Without protective equipment and testing of all workers, more employees will get sick and the safety of our food supply will be compromised,” she added, according to the AFGE website. “Proper actions are needed today, not months from now. This is a recipe for disaster.”
She gave the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service “an ‘F’ for protecting their own employees.”
President Trump signed an executive order last week, ensuring meat processing plants would stay open during the coronavirus pandemic. The businesses are now declared as “critical infrastructure” under the Defense Production Act.
Nearly two dozen meatpacking plants have been closed over the past two months due to coronavirus outbreaks, while thousands of workers employed by the plants have contracted the virus, according to the AFGE. Many of the FSIS field inspectors represented by the AFGE are still working.
As of last week, at least 20 meatpacking and food processing workers have died from the coronavirus, the news organization reported.