Fact check: How many meatpackers and health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19?

Adrienne Dunn

The claim: 5,000 meatpackers have tested positive for COVID-19, but not 5,000 doctors or nurses

As stay-at-home orders expire and states across the USA begin to reopen, businesses and workers weigh whether to participate.

Throughout the shutdowns, essential workers – including nurses, doctors and grocery store employees – continued to work, putting them at a higher risk of contracting the new coronavirus. 

Though businesses and workers take precautions to help mitigate the spread of the virus, some industries, including meatpacking, have been hit hard by outbreaks.

Social media posts have contributed to the spread of misinformation about the number of cases and deaths within industries.

As outbreaks in meatpacking plants make national headlines, misinformation and speculation surrounding the outbreaks circulate on social media. 


Coronavirus cases in health care, meatpacking industries

Health care workers battling COVID-19 have direct or indirect exposure to infected patients or materials every day. 

As of April 9, nearly 9,300 health care workers in the USA had been infected with the coronavirus, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials emphasized that the actual count was probably much higher, because the report was drawn from only 16% of the country's coronavirus cases. In the states that tracked cases most closely, health care workers accounted for about 11% of them. 

Registered nurse Katie Hammond, left, works with another nurse on a patient May 8 in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

A report May 8 from the CDC found that by late April, about 4,900 workers at 115 packing facilities had been infected with COVID-19. Factors influencing the spread of the virus within these plants may include "difficulties with workplace physical distancing and hygiene and crowded living and transportation conditions," according to the CDC.

The report said the findings are subject to certain limitations, including variations in testing and states reporting, meaning that there are probably other cases in the meatpacking industry that were not included in the count.

Outbreaks within meatpacking plants have had a national impact, causing a 40% reduction in pork slaughter capacity and a 25% reduction in beef slaughter capacity. At least 30 plants have closed in the past two months, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. 

In an effort to stabilize the supply chain, President Donald Trump issued an executive order in late April that reopened 14 meatpacking plants. The order was met with pushback from UFCW International President Marc Perrone, who urged the government to prioritize safety measures

Our rating: False

We rate the claim in the post FALSE because it is not supported by our research. Although there has been a significant amount of coronavirus cases in meatpacking facilities, the statement that 5,000 meatpackers have been infected but not 5,000 nurses and doctors is incorrect.

As of April 9, nearly 9,300 health care workers had been infected with the coronavirus, and as of late April, about 4,900 meatpackers had tested positive for the virus, according to the CDC.

The actual count of coronavirus cases among health care workers is probably much higher, because the count in the CDC's report was drawn from only 16% of the country's casesStates that tracked the coronavirus more closely found that health care workers accounted for about 11% of cases. 

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