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COVID-19 takes toll on ag workers, livestock sector

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For those who think this is a grossly over-exaggerated pandemic, you need to crawl out from under your rock and talk with people dealing with the infection load.

It’s Easter Sunday. It is snowing. There is no church or golf today, and in Colorado we still have at the very least another two weeks of “Staying in Place.”

Yeh, I know, just what you do not want to read, another blog about COVID-19.

But it is so devastating that it is hard to think about anything else. Certainly the creative juices to write about food safety have pretty much dried up for right now, just like an overcooked hamburger patty.

The stuff I read in the comment sections of the electronic meat and poultry journals just blows me away at times.

Things such as “the crazies” have ruined our economy. I guess they worry more about their 401K than their immunocompromised neighbors.

I have one left leaning family member who blames the whole global pandemic on President Donald Trump.

I have old friends still working in public health that tell me their emails are 50% “you are overreacting and causing mental strain and illness”, and 50% “why aren’t you shutting down MORE activities such as golf courses and hiking trails.”

For those who think this is a grossly over-exaggerated pandemic, you need to crawl out from under your rock and talk with people dealing with the infection load. Stop comparing it to influenza.

We have vaccines that are effective to prevent influenza and we have medications that are approved to fight the influenza virus. We even have some natural immunity to influenza because of previous exposure or vaccinations.

We have never seen this variation of the coronavirus before and because of that none of us have any immunity to it. So it spreads like wild fire.

Hospitals and health care workers become overwhelmed and devastated. Stop comparing it to influenza. Please.

And deaths are not limited to the elderly and frail as we were told they would be.

I have a son who is managing patients on ventilators. He says it resembles a war zone in the hospitals, re-using personal protective equipment each time he enters a room.

Two beds per ICU room, respirators moved from the ORs to the “regular” rooms to handle the overload.

30- and 40-year-old previously healthy young men on ventilators. Male victims far outnumber females. Packing plant workers.

Average length of stay on a ventilator used to be 3-4 days; now it is 15-20 days. And then they die.

We have a good friend, 43 years old, who is on his 15th day on a ventilator and fifth day on ECMO which is a heart lung bypass. It got really up close and personal when he crashed.

The packing plants seem especially prone to infectious cases.

There are probably multiple reasons.

Ethnicity, lack of social distancing both at work and at home, fear of loss of job if staying home for a “cold,” need for income and rent checks, inadequate communication in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner, etc.

JBS Swift headquarters is just a short distance from my home office and its Greeley plant is hard hit, making Greeley kind of the epicenter for COVID-19 in Colorado. The Greeley hospitals have been sending possible COVID-19 cases to Fort Collins, Colo., for two weeks as they are maxed out.

Our county health department has leased the Budweiser Event Center at $25,000 per day and is building a 1,060-bed facility in it to handle this overload.

How they are going to pay for that and staff it is beyond my ability to comprehend, and I used to lead the drills in Nebraska to prep for just this scenario, which we all hoped would never come to be.

This is not influenza and should not be compared to it.

This could clearly lead to multiple plant closures and a scarcity of meat and poultry products leading to increased food insecurity, which leads to violence and further decline.

And yet the re-bloggers on the electronic journals continue to blame the government for overreacting (or not acting strongly enough). What will they say when they can’t buy a good steak or a pound of ground beef?

One more gripe and I am out of here.

I was asked by the Animal Agriculture Alliance to comment on some statements being made by the animal rights activist groups that this pandemic is all caused by inhumane treatment of animals raised for food and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).

How bad is the fact that these groups are using a horrible pandemic to advance their cause and create confusion and mislead? This is not the time to act stupid.

There have been three coronavirus epidemics in the last two decades.

We had SARS in 2002 linked to bats and civet cats.

We had MERS in 2012 linked to camels.

We now have COVID that may or may not be linked to wet markets, but it erupted in a city of more than 10 million people in China. No CAFOs in that city, yet the animal rights groups and my vegetarian relative are trying to link the outbreak with CAFOs.

While many are at home because of “non-essential” jobs, and relatively safe from exposure, our farmers, ranchers and packing and further processing plants’ employees are at work and getting exposed and infected.

PETA and the rest can stay in the safety of their home and throw darts at the animal ag industry while the industry works to feed us at some risk to their own health.

That is just not right.

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