State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-31) represents a large portion of the Texas Panhandle. It’s a part of Texas that has seen such a big spike in coronaviruses cases that the federal government has sent in a “strike force.”
Much of the effort has been focused as cases linked to meatpacking plants – where Seliger said “several hundred people” have been exposed at a JBS plant in Cactus. He said that is due to working proximity but also the living proximity of some employees – many of whom are refugees.
“We have areas I’ve been told where 20 members of a family – and sometimes they’re not all members of the same family – are living in the same two-bedroom house,” Seliger said. “I mean that’s been adequate until you add contagion to it.”
Seliger said there’s also been a concern about wider community spread because many of these meatpacking employees ride to work together by bus. The buses have been picking up employees at places like Walmart in Amarillo.
“Where a good many of them walk into Walmart and get the things they need at home,” Seliger said.
He said one of the first changes will be to find a different location for those buses. But Seliger said the strike force will also make recommendations about working conditions.
“People still can’t get too far apart as they go through the processes to prepare meat for market but they require probably more protection than in a lot of places because of their proximity to one another,” Seliger said.
Seliger said another concern is about whether the communities where these plant workers live have the resources to address an outbreak.
“Dumas has a very nice hospital but it’s only 13 beds,” Seliger said.
And he said that means more sick people coming to Amarillo for help.
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