Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) did reveal on Thursday that more than 1,000 people in all of the state’s meatpacking plants have tested positive. That’s roughly one-sixth of all cases in Nebraska, he said. He would not, however, provide the numbers at particular plants.
Ricketts’s stance comes as the Trump administration is demanding meat processing plants remain open even as they remain among the most dangerous for COVID-19 infections among workers. About 10,000 COVID-19 cases have been linked to workers at meatpacking plants across the nation, USA Today and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting have found. At least 45 workers have died.
Ricketts claimed on Wednesday that specific statistics from individual plants are prohibited by the federal law protecting individuals’ privacy under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. But reported COVID-19 cases don’t reveal the identities of the people who have tested positive, only the numbers. And other states have reported infection rates at particular plants.
Ricketts’s decision was attacked Thursday night by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow for “not letting anyone know what’s happening” with specifics infection rates in each of the state’s meatpacking plants — or nursing homes or prisons.
Ricketts accused Maddow on Friday of having an “agenda” and claimed that his aggregate number of COVID-19 cases at food processing plants is an adequate accounting, the Omaha World-Herald reported. The governor’s spokesperson later tweeted that Maddow was spreading “fake news” and engaging in “totally blind partisan gamesmanship.”
Maddow slammed back:
Tracking outbreaks in specific plants helps uncover particular problems at factories that are threatening workers’ lives — as well as the health of those of the surrounding communities.
Last week an “incensed” sheriff in Iowa blasted “dysfunctional” Tyson Fresh Meats after 900 workers tested positive for COVID-19 at a plant in Waterloo. That was 90% of the cases in Iowa’s Black Hawk County.
Nebraska’s testing protocols are suspected of keeping the number of cases in the state artificially low. Not a single inmate in Nebraska’s prisons, for example, has been tested — even though staff members have already tested positive. The Nebraska Department of Corrections told the World-Herald that no inmates have symptoms that warrant testing.
Even without basement levels of testing, four counties in Nebraska have the fastest growing number of cases in the nation.
Maddow warned Ricketts on Thursday: “This is the kind of thing you go down in the history books for, Gov. Ricketts. You’re going to be famous for this, long after you’re gone.”
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