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4 ways to protect food workers and the food supply during the pandemic

4 ways to protect food workers and the food supply during the pandemic
[Photo: Stefano Guidi/Getty Images]

Experts say it’s time we expressed gratitude to and concern for the safety of food workers, helping keep our world intact during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To do that, Johns Hopkins University researchers today released a suggested protocol that will protect not only these employees but also the food supply chain itself.

The four-part recommended plan is:

  • Shield them from potential infection using methods such as imposing six-foot spaces between workers, staggering shifts, and outfitting them with personal protective gear.
  • Test them regularly by prioritizing food and agriculture workers.
  • Trace the path of the illness by reporting cases to state and local health departments.
  • Treat workers who contract COVID-19 as needed, be it access to healthcare, quarantine pay, or similar.

The Johns Hopkins experts cite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics showing that as of this month, close to 5,000 meat and poultry processing plant workers in 19 states have contracted COVID-19 and 20 have died.

“Even before the pandemic, meatpacking workers often experienced hazardous conditions and high rates of injury and illness. What we’re seeing now is that the pandemic is compounding health risks faced by an already vulnerable population,” said researcher Keeve Nachman. “Our goal with this brief was to describe how workplace conditions in the food system could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus, and provide a framework decision-makers can use to provide the best possible protections to workers.”

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