ROGERS, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — An increasing number of Arkansas poultry workers are coming down with COVID-19. During Monday’s press briefing in Rogers, state leaders praised companies in Northwest Arkansas and said they’re thoroughly combatting a situation they insinuated was bound to happen.
“Doing things right at the workplace doesn’t mean that none of your workers are gonna get infected,” said Dr. Nate Smith, Arkansas’ Department of Health Secretary. “They still go home, and they’re out in the community.”
During the briefing, Smith shared new numbers for positive cases in poultry plants: 571 infections, 392 of which were active. Nearly 3/4 infected people were in the Latin-X community, which has been heavily impacted throughout the outbreak. Last week, the advocacy group Venceremos protested outside Ozark Mountain Poultry in Rogers, accusing the plant of not doing enough to provide a safe environment for its workers.
“There’s absolutely no evidence that the individual who organized that has any clue whatsoever as to what happens inside those plants,” Mayor Greg Hines said.
Magaly Licolli, the group’s organizer, provided a statement in response to Hines.
“It’s deeply disappointing and concerning to hear Mayor Hines say, I don’t have any clue whatsoever as to what happens inside the plants, because he’s basically statating [sic] poultry workers, who are directly affected by the COVID-19 at the plants, don’t know what they experience daily,” Licolli said. “I invite Mayor Hines to hear the stories I hear every day about the terrible working conditions that poultry workers face during this pandemic.
Hines said he’s been in contact with senior poultry industry officials, and he’s confident in the plants’ safety. He specifically pointed to Tyson has a clear leader in the fight to combat COVID-19 in the essential industry.
“One senior worker said, ‘I wouldn’t only eat a chicken sandwich off the floor of one of these plants. I’d eat nachos off the floor,'” Hines said.
Hutchinson said he’s also spoken with poultry plant leaders and is encouraged by the steps they’re taking to keep supply chains operational while providing safe work environments.
“They have really set a national model for best practices in their industry from their companies right here in Northwest Arkansas, and I want to applaud them,” Hutchinson said.