By Juan Pablo Garnham, Texas Tribune
More than 700 new coronavirus cases were reported in the Amarillo region Saturday, as results from targeted testing at meatpacking plants came in.
According to the office of the governor, a surge response team was deployed in Amarillo on May 4 to survey high-risk locations and test workers at meatpacking plants. The Texas Panhandle, where a workforce of Hispanics and immigrants power several meatpacking plants, is home to the highest rates of infection in the state.
“As Texas continues ramping up its testing capabilities, there will be an increase in positive cases as the state targets the most high-risk areas: nursing homes, meatpacking plants and jails,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. “By immediately deploying resources and supplies to these high risk areas, we will identify the positive cases, isolate the individuals and ensure any outbreak is quickly contained.”
In a press release Saturday, the governor’s office indicated plants with widespread outbreaks have temporarily shut down for thorough disinfection.
At a Tyson Foods plant just outside of Amarillo, all 3,587 employees were tested, according to High Plains Public Radio. The plant is “undergoing additional sanitation and cleaning” during the weekend and plans to operate on Monday, according to the company.
The Amarillo region includes two counties. Potter County reported 618 new cases on Saturday bringing its total to 2,080, while Randall County reported 116 new cases for a total of 593. Moore County, which has the highest rate of cases per 1,000 residents in Texas and is north of Amarillo, added 4 new cases on Saturday. In total, the three counties accounted for 738 of the 1,801 new cases reported on Saturday.
Across the country, the coronavirus has spread easily in meatpacking plants, where workers typically stand shoulder to shoulder on fast-moving butchering lines. More than a dozen have been forced to shut down temporarily after surges in infections and deaths tied to those facilities. The processing plants, including those in Texas, have scrambled to ramp up health and safety precautions, providing masks and eye protection to workers and placing plastic dividers in some areas.
In Moore County, a JBS Beef plant has seen several cases and one death. On Wednesday, the company reversed course and accepted the offer from the state to test employees in their facilities.
Workers at JBS and family members of JBS employees who have been infected previously told The Texas Tribune that plant management was slow to acknowledge when workers began testing positive, and those who come in contact with the sick are not always informed of their exposure.