USDA Inspector Reportedly Dies Amid Meat-Plant Viral Outbreaks

(Bloomberg) -- An inspector from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has died after apparently contracting Covid-19, according to information the federal agency provided Thursday during a phone call with consumer groups.

The USDA didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Two participants on the call corroborated that the death was disclosed on the call.

“If USDA had acted more quickly to ensure worker safety, they could have prevented the disease from spreading across the meat industry as it has,” says Sarah Sorscher of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who was on the call. “Instead, we have massive shutdowns and worker deaths. All that delay and lack of action is going to make it much harder to bring these outbreaks under control.”

As meat processing plants become hotbeds of virus outbreaks, inspectors are finding themselves at higher risk and increasingly getting sick themselves. There are about 6,500 inspectors across the country working for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. One hundred have tested positive for the virus.

Paula Schelling, the acting national joint council chairwoman of food-inspector locals for the American Federation of Government Employees, who wasn’t on the agency call, said she also heard of the death on Thursday. She said that the worker was in Chicago and his wife is now in intensive care. Another inspector died in New York in March, she said.

“It makes my heart sad,” she said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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