RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has joined a coalition of 20 attorneys general calling for President Trump to take immediate action to ensure the health and safety of meat and poultry processing plant employees, who have been deemed essential workers doing the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Any outbreak is really concerning,” Herring said.
On April 28, the president signed an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act in an attempt to keep meat and poultry processing plants open.
According to the release from Herring’s office, more than 10,000 cases have been linked nationwide to processing plants. 45 employees have died.
Herring says the issue in Accomack is coming from the county’s two chicken plants: Perdue and Tyson.
While cases have grown since then, Herring’s office cited data from last week that showed 260 employees had tested positive for coronavirus in those plants — about 60% of Accomack County’s patients.
Herring believes this issue falls directly on President Trump’s shoulders. “It is only fair if the President is going to require these employees to continue working in these conditions, then he should require that the plants take immediate steps to make sure the workers are protected and that they are safe,” Herring added.
Accomack County continues to be one of the worst counties per capita when it comes to the coronavirus. One in 61 residents have tested positive. Accomack has more cases than Virginia Beach, a city 13 times larger.
“In a small county it could really overwhelm the community’s ability to treat patients,” Herring said. “Meat and poultry processing plants, including those on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, have become hotbeds for coronavirus and it is just wrong to have anyone working in these conditions without proactively making sure that all necessary safeguards are put in place to keep them protected from infection. These are human beings working in these plants not machines and they must be treated better.”
The attorneys general are asking the president for:
· Priority testing for workers in the processing plants;
· Immediate access to adequate PPE;
· Suspension of all line speed waivers, and a halt to approval of any additional waivers;
· 6-foot physical and social distancing where possible, and plexiglass barriers where distancing cannot be achieved; and,
· Isolation and quarantine of COVID-19 positive workers, with full pay
“The president is the one who has issued this order requiring these employees continue to work,” Herring said. “It is only fair and right that he also make sure the safety precautions are in place.”