In the United States, some industries, such as livestock processing, have remained operational during shelter-in-place orders due to their central role in essential supply chains. Charles Taylor, Christopher Boulos, and Douglas Almond examined the relationship between livestock processing and Covid-19 transmission in the continental United States, using county-level data on Covid-19 cases and deaths.
The authors estimated that as of July 21, 2020, livestock plants were associated with 236,000-310,000 Covid-19 cases (6-8% of all US cases) and 4,300-5,200 deaths (3-4% of all US deaths), based on the elevated Covid-19 incidence and death rates observed in counties where plants were located. Livestock workers likely represented a small fraction of these cases, with the rest arising from community transmission. The association between Covid-19 incidence and livestock plants was most pronounced among the largest plants and among plants owned by the largest companies.
Plants with recently issued waivers from the US Department of Agriculture permitting line processing speeds above statutory limits were associated with greater increases in Covid-19 incidence than non-waiver plants. Temporary plant closures were followed by steeper declines in county-wide Covid-19 growth rates than were observed in counties without plant closures.
According to the authors, the results suggest that livestock processing may pose a particularly large public health risk.