NBC News
NBC News 20 Mar 2020

Doctors Risk Their Lives While Facing Crippling Shortages


Major cities are warning they could run out of protective equipment for doctors and nurses within weeks, if not days. Many are now making their own masks and automakers are offering to step in to make ventilators.

You're a worker at a Tyson Foods poultry plant and still punching in even though the coronavirus continues to run rampant through meat-processing plants across the country. You're proud that your job helps keep supermarkets stocked. Your family supports Donald Trump. But the president's executive order to keep meat plants open — issued after the Tyson Foods chairman, John Tyson, publicly warned of supply shortages — worries you. You think company leadership pushed for plants to stay open and to run at top speed instead of doing more to keep workers safe. This is the reality for Jerald Brooks, a Tyson poultry processing plant worker in Glen Allen, Va. He is not alone.

Meat plant workers rarely speak out for fear of reprisal. But in the video above, Jerald and Lakesha Bailey, a former worker at a Tyson plant, urge the company to slow down the processing lines. Chicken carcasses zoom along the lines at breakneck speeds, and workers are often packed shoulder to shoulder to keep up — making it impossible to social distance.

Tyson Foods claims one of its core values is "Workplace Safety," yet 570 workers tested positive for the coronavirus in a single poultry plant in Wilkes, N.C. And at Tyson plants around the country, over 7,000 employees have tested positive for the virus. Workers continue to die from Covid-19. Despite this, the company recently reverted to its pre-coronavirus absentee policy; workers who fear getting infected will now be penalized for staying home.

Workers like Jerald and Lakesha want to continue to feed America. But they don't want to have to sacrifice their safety or that of their families to do so.
In a testy exchange between Ranking Member Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Brown asked why the Trump administration is so eager to send employees back to work during uncertain times.
"How many workers should give their lives to increase the GDP ... or the Dow by 1,000 points?" Brown, a Democrat, asked.
"No workers should give their lives to do that, Senator, and I think your characterization is unfair," Mnuchin said.
Mnuchin, however, said the US economy risks "permanent damage" if it does not reopen soon, and businesses must bring people back to work "in a safe way."
The debate about when to reopen the economy is central in US policy, and it's being laid bare in today's hearing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., led the House of Representatives in a moment of silence in memory of the more than 100,000 Americans who have lost their lives to coronavirus.
Healthcare workers are risking their lives every day caring for COVID-19 patients, but some are facing threats of deportation. NBC News spoke with two N.Y. doctors that shared concerns over losing their temporary work visas.

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