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Meat Processing Plant Outbreaks Reveal Failures In NC’s Regulatory Oversight

A large brick industrial building with a Tyson sign on the side
Jacob Biba
Carolina Public Press
Tyson Farms meat processing plant in Wilkesboro was temporarily closed for cleaning after workers tested positive for COVID-19

Nursing homes, schools, correctional facilities and childcare centers are required to report information about coronavirus outbreaks to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The state agency then shares that information publicly in its regularly-updated COVID-19 dashboard, which includes details about the specific facilities in which the outbreaks are happening and how many people have tested positive for the virus.

But the agency does not publish similar data about meat processing facilities, even though they have been a hot spot for the virus. 

DHHS does not have regulatory authority over the meat processing industry, and facilities are not required to report information. Newly revealed emails uncovered by the NC Watchdog Reporting Network reveal that under pressure from local health departments, DHHS declined to publish the information they had about which meat processing facilities had outbreaks. They did so, in part, to maintain a cooperative relationship with the companies.

Host Frank Stasio talks to WUNC data reporter Jason deBruyn about the latest reporting, why there is so little cooperation among state leaders to make this information public and the consequences of the lack of transparency for workers at the plants.

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