- Of the 10 biggest COVID-19 hotspots across the US right now — excluding prisons — seven are linked to meat processing plants.
- New phone location data show that people — potentially including workers and truckers carrying shipments — moved from one meatpacking factory in Indiana to 48 states and Canada in the month of March.
- The data show that the COVID-19 outbreaks currently threatening meat supply chains in the US could have impacts beyond just the local communities surrounding meatpacking plants.
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Meatpacking plants across the US have remained open amid the COVID-19 outbreak following an executive order from President Donald Trump meant to protect the nation’s food supply chain.
But now, meat processing plants have a COVID-19 problem: Other than prisons, 7 of the 10 biggest coronavirus clusters in the US right now are linked to meatpacking plants.
While the outbreaks are currently being felt most harshly in the communities where plant workers live, new phone location data shows people moving between meatpacking plants and nearly all 50 states, indicating that outbreaks connected to the plants could have broader impacts.
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Cass County, Indiana — home to a Tyson meat processing plant — currently has more COVID-19 cases per capita than New York City. The plant halted operations April 25, and and county health officials told NBC News that 890 employees there have tested positive for coronavirus. Tyson declined to confirm the number of cases.
Data visualization firm Tectonix GEO says it has used anonymized phone location data to identify and track devices that were inside the Cass County plant’s in the month of March.
—Tectonix GEO (@TectonixGEO) May 6, 2020
The visualization purportedly shows devices — possibly owned by workers, truckers, or anyone whose GPS location was logged at the plant — subsequently traveling to 48 states and Canada throughout the month of March.
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A Tectonix spokesperson told Business Insider that the data could provide useful insight to lawmakers and industry leaders attempting to safely protect the supply chain, noting that it illustrates “the potential of these facilities to affect society well beyond the plants themselves in the COVID era.”
The location data comes from X-Mode Social, an analytics company that’s able to track the precise location of smartphones across the globe using software built into apps that people download. The practice has been protested by privacy advocates, but location data firms and their partners insist that people’s movements are anonymized and not directly tied to their identities.