The Trump administration continues to come up desperately short in their handling of the Coronavirus. Now, reporting has emerged indicating that Alex Azar, who works as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Trump administration, offered the staggering suggestion during a recent conference call with members of Congress that meatpacking plant workers may somehow be to blame for their own Coronavirus infections. Azar cited the “home and social” aspects of workers’ lives as possibly to blame for dramatic infection rates among meatpacking plant workers, some 6,500 of whom have contracted the virus in the U.S. so far.
Azar’s suggestion that the living conditions and social behavior are behind the high Coronavirus infection rates among meatpacking plant workers seems, quite simply, ludicrous. Azar sounds willfully ignorant of the fact that these workers’ occupation require them to work in close proximity for extended periods of time, and that issue — not some vague notion that maybe people live too close together — is how the Coronavirus spreads.
Azar’s reported idea for a solution to his notion that meatpacking workers’ living conditions were to blame for their infections was “to send more law enforcement to those communities to better enforce social distancing rules.” So, he seemingly wants to send police to harass poor and otherwise marginalized people. What could go wrong? (A lot, obviously.)
Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.), who was apparently among those on the call, told POLITICO:
‘He was essentially turning it around, blaming the victim and implying that their lifestyle was the problem. Their theory of the case is that they are not becoming infected in the meat processing plant, they’re becoming infected because of the way they live in their home… Law enforcement is not going to solve the problem. It was so far off base.’
Without offering any specifics, a spokesperson for Azar’s department called the reporting an “inaccurate representation” of his remarks, but that’s not exactly credible. If Azar is mulling over the idea that perhaps workers themselves are the ones at least partially responsible for their own Coronavirus infections, then how on earth can the administration be trusted to develop effective plans to keep meatpacking plant workers safe? Trump just recently signed an executive order designating these plants as essential infrastructure and demanding that they stay open, but conditions there are precarious. A meatpacking worker in Pennsylvania named Rafael Benjamin who’d previously been instructed by a supervisor to take off a face mask he was wearing was among the state’s most recent Coronavirus deaths.
While Azar wheels out these apparent conspiracy theories, meatpacking plant workers are suffering. POLITICO reports that around “44 percent of meatpackers are Latino and 25 percent are African American, according to an analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research,” adding that the “League of United Latin American Citizens estimates 80 percent of those working in meat processing plants are undocumented or refugees.” Thanks to their systematic exclusion from comprehensive and effective health care, many of these very same communities have been hit especially hard by the Coronavirus outbreak. Repeatedly, marginalized communities’ portions of Coronavirus cases and deaths have far exceeded their portions of their general population.