Coronavirus Live Updates: Data on Sick Meatpacking Workers Is Elusive as Plants Reopen


Meat processing companies are reluctant to disclose detailed case counts.

The Smithfield Foods plant in Tar Heel, N.C., is one of the world’s largest pork processing facilities, employing about 4,500 people and slaughtering roughly 30,000 pigs a day at its peak. And like more than 100 other meat plants across the United States, the facility has seen a substantial number of virus cases.

But the exact number is anyone’s guess.

Smithfield would not provide any data when asked about the number of illnesses at the plant. Neither would state or local health officials.

Along with nursing homes and prisons, meatpacking facilities have proven to be places where the virus spreads rapidly.

But as dozens of plants that closed because of outbreaks begin reopening, meat companies’ reluctance to disclose detailed case counts makes it difficult to determine whether the contagion is contained or new cases are emerging even with new safety measures in place, report Michael Corkery, David Yaffe-Bellany and Derek Kravitz.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were nearly 5,000 meatpacking workers infected with the virus at the end of last month. But the nonprofit group Food & Environment Reporting Network estimated last week that the number had climbed to more than 17,000, with 66 meatpacking deaths.

And the outbreaks may be even more extensive.

For weeks, local officials received conflicting signals from state leaders and meatpacking companies about how much information to release, according to internal emails from government health agencies obtained through public records requests by Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation and provided to The New York Times.

The mixed messages have left many workers and their communities in the dark about the extent of the spread in parts of Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado.

On a three-day weekend in a stay-at-home era, when gatherings posed risks and remembrances of the war dead vied with mourning for the nearly 100,000 Americans who had died of the virus, the politics of the pandemic burst into fresh view.

President Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery on Monday for a wreath-laying ceremony, then traveled to Fort McHenry in Baltimore, where he spoke of the sacrifice of soldiers and described current service members as being “on the front lines of our war against this terrible virus.”

Mr. Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, did not wear masks, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged all Americans to wear them. A stay-at-home order is still in effect in Baltimore, where the mayor, Bernard C. Young, had urged the president to cancel the visit.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, did wear a mask on Monday during his first public appearance since mid-March, when he began campaigning from his home.

He and his wife, Jill Biden, both in black masks, laid a wreath at a veterans memorial in Delaware in an unannounced visit. “Thanks for your service,” Mr. Biden said, saluting a small group of veterans and other onlookers from a distance.

Mr. Biden, 77, and his campaign advisers have said that they intend to abide by the public safety recommendations that have so far made rallies and other campaign events impossible. They have indicated that they want to serve as role models who respect the science behind the guidance. To some Biden allies, it offers a chance for an implicit contrast with Mr. Trump, 73, who has pushed for quick reopenings of states, businesses and houses of worship and has resisted wearing masks.

On Monday evening, Mr. Trump retweeted a post by Brit Hume of Fox News that showed a photograph of Mr. Biden with his face covering and said, “This might help explain why Trump doesn’t like to wear a mask in public.”

The president tweeted that he had “LOVE” for the people of North Carolina, a swing state that he won in 2016, but he added that without a “guarantee” from the governor, “we would be spending millions of dollars building the Arena to a very high standard without even knowing if the Democrat Governor would allow the Republican Party to fully occupy the space.”

Crime, say those who study it and those who fight it day to day, requires three things: a perpetrator, a victim and an opportunity.

The dip in crime is compounded by the fact that some police departments have been hampered by quarantines or have made fewer arrests to limit interactions or to avoid filling jails.

Crime did not entirely disappear, of course. Homicides in numerous cities remained flat or even rose. Burglaries of commercial properties and auto thefts have often multiplied, as criminals exploited closed stores and unattended cars.

In Las Vegas, where the police said that crime fell more than 22 percent during the initial two months of the shutdown, the Strip, with its crowded nightclubs and bars, had traditionally been the locus of crime. Since it was largely devoid of tourists, crime migrated to some residential streets.

For the month ending May 17, most major crimes in New York City were down 21 percent from the same period last year, according to Police Department statistics, although murders were unchanged, burglaries were up, and car thefts jumped almost 68 percent.

But some experts are wary of such statistics, suggesting the data is too raw. Desperate shopkeepers may report their stores burglarized to collect insurance, said Christopher Herrmann, a professor of law and police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. But it will be months before insurance inspectors start working again to confirm such thefts.

One drop in crime statistics may be worrisome: Some cities indicated a decrease in both domestic abuse and child abuse calls. The police in those cities said they suspected that abuse was actually more prevalent, given that most people were stuck at home.

But with no teachers to spot bruises in the classroom and nowhere for people to escape their abusers, such crimes were less visible, the police said.

California has an estimated unemployment rate above 20 percent, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom — far higher than the 14.7 percent national rate. In Los Angeles, with movie productions shut down, theme parks padlocked and hotels empty, things are even worse: The jobless rate has reached 24 percent, roughly equal to the peak unemployment of the Great Depression, in 1933.

“Economic free fall” is how Tom Steyer, the former presidential candidate, described it. He is leading the state’s economic recovery task force, a group of business leaders, labor activists, economists and former governors who have begun plotting a way out.

With a gross domestic product larger than 25 states combined, California’s pace of recovery has significant implications for the future of the United States. After 2008, California helped lead the nation in economic growth and job creation, powered by Silicon Valley, which remains relatively resilient.

But this time the pain is shared across a much broader area of the economy, including rotten strawberries in fields along the Pacific Coast, the empty wine-tasting rooms of Napa Valley and the deserted campuses of the nation’s largest public university system.

“I’d say this will be the most serious economic dislocation that America has faced,” said Jerry Brown, the governor of California until 2019, who left office with billions in the state’s rainy day fund. “The response should be a Rooseveltian intervention and effort to mobilize the economy the best way we can.”

The New York Stock Exchange will partly reopen its trading floor today.

The New York Stock Exchange will partly reopen its trading floor to a small number of brokers on Tuesday. Anyone who enters the building will be required to wear a mask, follow social-distancing rules, undergo temperature checks and abstain from using public transit. No one will be required to come in, and traders and other employees can continue to work remotely, said Stacey Cunningham, president of the stock exchange.

For Muslims, the pandemic has transformed Ramadan, one of the most important holidays of the year, from a joyful occasion into a somber and solitary month shadowed by sickness, death and joblessness.

The holiday is celebrated from one sighting of the crescent moon to the next, with daytime fasting and nighttime merrymaking that culminates in Eid al-Fitr, which this year fell on Sunday.

“For a lot of people, it has been very tough on them mentally and emotionally,” said Abdul Aziz Bhuiyan, the chairman of the Hillside Islamic Center on Long Island. “Some of the Islamic centers were able to go online to do programs, but people living in more distressed communities don’t have access.”

The weight of the pandemic has fallen disproportionately on immigrant and minority populations with high poverty levels. Muslim leaders say the Bangladeshi community in New York, one of the city’s fastest growing immigrant groups, has been devastated by the virus.

Data released by the city has shown the hardest-hit areas in New York are also those most popular among Bangladeshi immigrants, including the Queens neighborhoods of Jamaica, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights.

At the end of April, Muslim funeral homes were burying “on average about 100 people a day and about 70 percent of them were Bengalis, either from Bangladesh or of Bengali origin,” said Raja Abdulhaq, the executive director of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York.

Many Bangladeshi immigrants have public-facing, low-wage jobs and then return to small apartments where they live with large families or several roommates, which had left many “very exposed” to the virus, he said.

“A lot of them work as taxi drivers, so they see a lot of people,” Mr. Abdulhaq said. “And a lot of them work in restaurants or do jobs in that industry, like food carts.”

The economic effect of the virus has battered New York’s Muslim community, resulting in widespread joblessness and casting mosque finances into an uncertain future.

Donations collected during Ramadan help finance as much as 80 percent of the annual budget of many mosques, Mr. Bhuiyan said. But few of them had online donation systems set up when the pandemic hit.

Mosques were playing catch up now, he said, but trouble still looms.

The tradition of the summer share, in which beach-seeking New Yorkers pool their resources to rent oceanside escapes on Long Island and in New Jersey’s shore towns, has long been a mainstay, immortalized by the MTV show “Jersey Shore.”

On the list of negative effects of this crisis, the end of the summer share is perhaps among the most trivial and least upsetting in a world where people have lost jobs and fallen ill, and nearly 100,000 Americans have died.

But for those in the rarefied segment of affording such experiences, summer by the sea was a balm they looked forward to, particularly now. Parties? Bobbing on inflatable pool flamingos with a dozen housemates? All currently forbidden. Social-distancing protocols are still in place. Many beaches are restricting access to outsiders.

“It’s really depressing,” said Cher Landman, 36. “I was recently single, and thought, ‘Maybe I’ll meet someone through this, that could be a good idea.’”

A Type 1 diabetic, Ms. Landman is at higher risk for serious illness were she to contract the virus. “When you are in a share house you can’t control all the people, and God knows what they’ve been doing,” she said.

The seasonal real estate market is not suffering, however: Brokers say that wealthy families eager to flee New York City created an early spring frenzy, a 30 percent increase over last year, according to Cody Vichinsky, a founder of Bespoke Real Estate.

But most, Mr. Vichinsky said, are individuals snapping up long-term rentals as a refuge from the virus’s hot spot, New York City. For those who sublease houses — often illegally — to dozens of renters, the market has largely dried up.

Putting the risk of Covid-19 in perspective.

How dangerous is it to live in New York City during this pandemic? How much safer is it in other places? Is the risk of dying from Covid-19 comparable to driving to work every day, skydiving or being a soldier in a war? We are awash in statistics about Covid-19, but what does this all mean in terms of personal risk? Here are some tools for assessing risk that can help us put the daily torrent of numbers in perspective.

What’s happening around the world.

A top adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain fended off calls to resign after traveling in violation of the government’s rules. And the World Health Organization halted trials of hydroxychloroquine, citing safety concerns.

Reporting was contributed by Tim Arango, Niraj Chokshi, Michael Corkery, Charlotte Cowles, Jason DeParle, Thomas Fuller, Katie Glueck, Maggie Haberman, Serge F. Kovaleski, Derek Kravitz, Neil MacFarquhar, Victor Mather, Sarah Maslin Nir, Adam Popescu, David C. Roberts, Anna Schaverien, Kaly Soto, Liam Stack, Chris Stanford, Michael Wines and David Yaffe-Bellany.





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