UNMC study shows packing plant workers twice as likely to get COVID

A UNMC study showed workers at packing plants, like JBS, were twice as likely to get COVID-19...
A UNMC study showed workers at packing plants, like JBS, were twice as likely to get COVID-19 and three times more likely to be hospitalized.(CNN)
Published: Aug. 5, 2022 at 2:13 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (Press Release) - The University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) Friday released the results of a year-long study of the effects of COVID-19 on the nation’s packing plant workers.

The study was done in conjunction with the United Food and Commercial Worker’s Union (UFCW) which represents 1.3 million workers in North America’s essential industries like meat packing plants and grocery stores.

Among the key findings of the year-long study of essential workers were:

  • UFCW members who reported having COVID infections before May 2021 were twice as likely to be reinfected in the past year.
  • Of those UFCW members who contracted COVID, 59% said that they believed it was likely they contracted the virus in their workplace.
  • Six percent of respondents contracted COVID needed to be hospitalized, which is a significantly higher rate than the nationwide 2% rate of hospitalization.
  • Four percent of workers reported being unable to return to work after contracting COVID.
  • In May of 2022, half of respondents report that their lives were still deeply impacted by COVID.

“This UNMC study makes clear that COVID-19 has – and continues to have – a serious and significant impact on America’s essential workers,” said Marc Perrone, UFCW International President. “The UFCW is calling on Congress, the Biden Administration, and states and localities to take bolder steps and policy actions to better address the impact of the pandemic, and to help protect workers from future pandemics. These essential workers paid a hefty price for continuing to do their jobs, which kept food on American families’ tables and our economy moving throughout the pandemic. They deserve immediate action as they continue to confront ongoing risk and the nation’s recognition for their service.”

“The unique partnership with UFCW has recorded the full scope of the markedly increased risk of COVID infections among union essential workers,” said Ali S. Khan MD, Dean College of Public Health, UNMC. “Policies to protect these essential workers are critical to weathering the current surge of COVID cases nationwide and being ready for the next pandemic.” In light of this groundbreaking study, the UFCW is calling for the following immediate actions to protect the health and safety of our essential workers:

  • Ensure essential workers in every industry have access to dedicated paid sick leave that protects their employment status when dealing with infection;
  • Immediately move on legislation, like the America’s Meatpacking Workers Act, to protect some of the most vulnerable workers in the hardest-hit industries;
  • Implement a nation-wide, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) infectious disease standard, and hold employers accountable who do not take steps to protect essential workers during pandemics.

More on the parameters, methodology, and subjects of the study can be found in the summary of the study here and the full study results here.

In addition to Friday’s new study, in the latest data independently compiled by the UFCW, there have been at least 505 frontline worker deaths and at least 131,295 frontline workers infected or exposed confirmed among the union’s members nationwide.

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