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Federal response to coronavirus spike in Panhandle

Variations on the theme.

A federal strike force is headed to Amarillo in response to a surge of coronavirus cases tied to meatpacking plants in the area.

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson announced on Saturday that a team of federal officials would arrive in the Texas Panhandle as soon as Sunday to help “attack” outbreaks in the plants and take over testing and investigations of people contracting the new coronavirus.

“They will bring resources and most importantly they will bring strategies that they’ve been using in other beef packing plants to slow the spread, to get control of it,” Nelson said in a video posted to her Facebook page.

The latest figures reported by the state put the number of people who have been infected in Potter County at 684, giving it an infection rate of 5.66 per 1,000 residents. That’s roughly four times higher than the infection rates in Harris and Dallas counties.

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In her video update, Nelson said that community spread of the virus in the area had “started from” meatpacking plants in the area. There is also a Tyson Foods meatpacking plant in Amarillo.

Nelson shared details of a phone call with Gov. Greg Abbott during which the governor told her it was best for Amarillo residents to stay indoors. Abbott last week allowed his statewide stay-at-home order to expire and allowed for the reopening of some businesses that limit their capacity.

So, would Abbott allow Amarillo to impose (or reimpose) its own stay-at-home order if Mayor Nelson thought it was the best way to bring this outbreak under control, or nah? Asking for a friend.

We’ve talked about meat processing plants and their role in spreading coronavirus before. The story doesn’t say whether that Tyson plant in Amarillo is one of the places where the community spread of COVID-19 started, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s that once there is a hot spot in your area, whether it’s a meant processing plant or a nursing home or, you know, a prison, it’s going to affect people outside that hot spot, too. Maybe if we put a little more focus and emphasis on minimizing the risks at these places, we’d be in a better position to back off the restrictions on other places.

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One Comment

  1. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    Part of the challenge is that, at many food processing plants, the workers arent actually employees of the plant, but are contracted out (possibly to avoid immigration status liability for the processor). This creates a problem for incentives and worker protections, if those contractors simply elect to take the incentives for themselves.

    An obvious area of ‘low hanging fruit’ would be to place additional protections/quarantine measures on workers in those plants, but immigration status issues are going to be a real problem, because all the workers will vanish the second the Trump Admin/Gov. Abbott get involved. This may be an issue in Nursing care as well.

    For prison guards, its another issue. Compliance with extra quarantine measures will likely be very low, due to to the fact that many of them are likely unwilling to comply, especially if Trump and the right wing are arguing that mitigation metrics are for soy boy liberals.

    I expect our food processing and prisons to go from a problem to a crisis in short order.