CDC Issues Recommendations for Workers in Meat Processing Facilities

On May 1, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a preliminary report discussing modified guidelines for workers in meat processing facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report retained previous recommendations while expanding upon specific guidelines for the unique environment found in meat processing facilities.

The need for additional recommendations rose to prominence based upon an increase in reports that meat processing facilities failed to follow CDC recommendations. Following these allegations, the CDC submitted a request for information to 23 states that contained a confirmed case of COVID-19 in an employee of a meat processing facility. On April 27, the CDC released the conclusions resulting from the data request. From the 19 of 23 states replying, the CDC confirmed the existence of 4,913 positive cases of COVID-19,including 20 deaths, in 115 meat processing facilities, or 3% of all workers in the reporting facilities. The CDC determined that the positive case count resulted from a number of factors including, but not limited to: (1) work demands resulting in difficulties maintaining face coverings; (2) “structural and operational practices” making it difficult to maintain a 6-foot distance between workers; and (3) socioeconomic factors leading to symptomatic workers attending work while feeling ill, such as “bonuses that incentivize attendance.”

Recommendations in the CDC’s report covered two categories: structural/operational and sociocultural/economic. In the former category, recommendations included: (1) 6 feet distancing between workers unless barriers exist; (2) Wearing of CDC-approved face coverings in “nonproduction areas such as entrances, exits, break rooms, [and] shared vehicles”; (3) “stationing workers so they are not facing each other”; (4) increased access to sanitizing stations; and (5) “positioning fans so they do not blow air from one worker directly onto another.” Recommendations regarding sociocultural/economic factors included: (1) “personnel policies that allow the use of leave when ill without loss of seniority or pay” and (2) “avoidance of any incentives that might encourage workers to come to work while symptomatic.”