GARDEN CITY, Kansas — Two western Kansas counties that are home to meatpacking plants have some of the highest counts of the coronavirus in the state. It’s a distinction that comes as the Tyson plant near Garden City said this week it has several cases among its workers.
None of the meatpacking plants, which make up about 25% of the national beef supply according to a Kansas State professor’s estimate, has shared a specific count of workers with a COVID-19 diagnosis. And the state health department leaves it up to county health departments to decide whether to provide the public with detailed case information.
In the span of 11 days, Ford County, where there is a National Beef and a Cargill plant in Dodge City, has gone from 16 cases to 288. Seward County, which has a National Beef plant in Liberal, went from six to 125. Finney County, where the Tyson plant is located, is up from 17 to 87.
Several meatpacking plants around the country, from South Dakota to Iowa to Colorado, have had to shut down temporarily over the past few weeks due to the number of workers coming down with the coronavirus. But so far, Kansas’ major meatpacking plants have not fully shut down, though the National Beef plant in Dodge City did close for a few days for deep cleaning.
Companies say they’ve been taking extra precautions and social distancing measures. But unions are pressing for better protections inside plants, where workers stand-side-by side to cut meat from carcasses.