The things we were trying to prevent are happening. We started the coronavirus precautions too late and it’s going to kick our butts. We all know it’s already impacted hospitals and clinics. Now, huge plants are shutting down. Smithfield produces roughly 1/4 of all packaged pork products sold in the US and their facility has had to shut down temporarily because of the coronavirus outbreak with several hundred workers ill. And they weren’t the first, just the largest. Technically, they are the third meat processing facility to be shut down this week and last because of COVID-19 among the workers.
This has always been the greatest threat to the US economy and society as a whole. The possibility that major industries would have to be shut down because a large percentage of workers got sick with COVID-19 (the illness caused by novel coronavirus).
With 3 large meat processing plants shut down, we can expect to see higher prices on meat at the grocery stores and may even experience some shortages. I said in late February or early March it wasn’t about the death toll, it was about how many people would get sick. This is the reason why. The deaths are tragic and awful and they all matter. But the threat to the workforce was always the most concerning.
Americans are not really capable of taking off work when they are sick. It isn’t “okay” in our society. We are taught that when we have to call in it forces others to pick up the burden of the work we won’t be there to do. As a result, most of us have gone to work when we should have stayed home and all of us have exposed coworkers to infectious illnesses and shrugged it off.
In 1919, workers who showed up sick to work could be fined. Coughing or sneezing in public without covering it could also result in fines which were doubled if they happened on public transport. The entire country ended up on a 60 day lockdown at one point. Why? Because the number of sick workers was collapsing major industries.
Ninety-nine years later it’s a different disease causing it, but we are basically experiencing similar conditions to what happened with the Spanish Influenza pandemic. Hopefully, it won’t require us to reconstitute fines for being in public while ill, but it could. My county in Missouri is issuing $2,500 fines for gathering in groups. None of our current public health restrictions are new. And we can only hope that our industry doesn’t get as bad as it did in 1919.
However, the closure of 3 meat processing plants in a week is a bad sign. I look for community nurses to start being stationed in our factories; taking everyone’s temperatures and doing mini-physicals before a worker is allowed into the building and PS: they did that in 1919 as well.
And as of 4pm April 13th there were 554,894 cases in the US. Consider that number for a few minutes… really consider it. 554,894 cases in just 48 days since the first confirmed case of community spread in the US. In less than 2 months we’ve gone from no cases to 550,000+. Spanish Flu didn’t spread that fast and neither did H1N1 Swine Flu. The first confirmed case of Spanish Flu in the US happened March 4, 1918 when several soldiers reported to the medics on base that they were feeling ill. In the weeks that followed; several more military bases would be inundated with influenza patients. In 30 days after the first case of known Spanish Influenza only 1,100 cases existed in the US total and nearly all of those cases were soldiers that had served in Europe during WWI.
Now, that’s what we know for sure from military records. Epidemiologist estimate that in the first 30 days of the outbreak in the US a total of 10,000 people were infected with Spanish Influenza. We’re at 50 times that amount in just 48 days. And here’s the craziest part; March 26, 2020 – 30 days after the first confirmed case of community spread of coronavirus in the US there were 63,675 cases; at no time during this pandemic has the spread of Spanish Influenza been faster than the spread of coronavirus, contrary to what some people would have you think.
What this means is that we are very likely to see larger industry collapses with coronavirus than we saw in 1918/1919 from Spanish Flu because coronavirus is spreading much faster. Coronavirus doesn’t need to kill 50 million people like Spanish Flu did, if it can make 50 million people sick in a fraction of the time. That’s one thing people don’t think about… 50 million people died over 3 years with Spanish Flu. The total number of sick people was much, much higher with nearly half of the world’s population suffering from it at some point. Coronavirus is spreading faster which means it won’t take 3 years for half the world’s population to become infected with COVID-19 and that is a whole lot of sick people for every country to deal with.
This was always the greatest concern and here it is.