We’re mapping Covid-19-related slaughterhouse closures and re-openings

Over the last few weeks, Covid-19 has begun to make its way across rural America, slowly forcing the closure of slaughterhouses where, in some cases, hundreds of workers have confirmed cases of the disease caused by the coronavirus. A Smithfield pork plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota was for a few days last week the epicenter of the largest cluster in the country. Elsewhere, meatpacking companies have intensified concern among workers and public health advocates, who want to see plants shut down rather than just implement infection control measures.

As a result, advocacy groups like Food and Water Watch have called for the immediate closure of all slaughterhouses with confirmed cases of Covid-19. Reality has proven far more messy. On Monday, local officials in Iowa claimed they could link 150 cases to a Tyson plant in Waterloo. Iowa Public Radio reports that they pleaded with Republican Governor Kim Reynolds to close the plant, but she refused, even as she acknowledged that the state will likely see more clusters of positive cases in slaughterhouses. “Once the virus is introduced into this type of an environment it’s very difficult to contain, but these also are essential businesses and an essential workforce,” Reynolds said. 

Similar political skirmishes are playing out across the country, as elected officials and meatpacking companies grapple with the reality of an industry that isn’t built to absorb systemic shocks, and slaughterhouse lines that are designed for efficiency and speed rather than a control on physical distance. Meanwhile, it falls to workers—often immigrants, sometimes undocumented, with limited bargaining power and English fluency—to make decisions that affect their safety.

While meatpackers have been of intense concern, they aren’t the only large-scale food production facilities closing. The crisis has curtailed production of Kraft macaroni and cheese, and chicken pot pies. 

But as is true of the pandemic itself, related impacts change quickly; some of the meatpacking plants that announced temporary closures have already re-opened. We’re tracking the closures—and re-openings—in the graphic below. Many plants that have resumed operations are doing so at a reduced capacity, which we’ve highlighted in yellow. Hover over the graphics for more information. If we’ve missed anything or marked a lowered-capacity plant in green, let us know on social media or email [email protected]

Last Updated June 3, 2020, 11:35 AM.

H. Claire Brown is a senior staff writer for The Counter. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, and The Intercept and has won awards from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, the New York Press Club, the Newswomen's Club of New York, and others. A North Carolina native, she now lives in Brooklyn.

Jessica Fu is a staff writer for The Counter. She previously worked for The Stranger, Seattle's alt-weekly newspaper. Her reporting has won awards from the Association of Food Journalists and the Newswomen’s Club of New York.