Nearly a billion pounds of beef move through the JBS processing plant in Grand Island, Neb., every year. Except this year: Over the last two months, the company has had to slow production as meatpacking plants around the country have been roiled by coronavirus outbreaks.

In late March, Nebraska state health officials, fearing such outbreaks, urged Governor Pete Ricketts to temporarily close the plant.

After Ricketts rebuffed them, stories of missing hand sanitizer and soap, no personal protective gear, and insufficient safety precautions began to leak out of the plant, which as of April had 260 confirmed Covid-19 cases that can be tied back to it. It’s difficult to know how many more among its 3,000 workers have been infected since then, because Ricketts has refused to disclose official plant numbers. Across the country, rural areas that contain meatpacking plants with outbreaks of Covid-19 have rates five times those of other rural areas.

In a daily briefing on April 23, Ricketts dismissed those who thought the largely immigrant meatpacking workers in his state deserved relief by warning, “Think about how mad people were when they couldn’t get paper products.”

President Donald Trump issued an executive order five days later recognizing meat as a “scarce and critical material essential to the national defense,” adding that he would “ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans” under the Defense Production Act of 1950. Ricketts—undeterred by the outbreaks in his state and emboldened by the White House—issued a press release declaring May as Beef Month in Nebraska.

How Red Meat Became the Red Pill for the Alt-Right

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