Meat and shopping: One more impact of the coronavirus on ordinary life

It began in mid-March when the new coronavirus became part of ordinary American life with shortages of household products like hand sanitizer, toilet paper and paper towels. Now, as May has turned to June, scarcity – and the fear of it -- is all about the meat.

As of June 6, there have been at least 20,400 reported positive cases tied to meatpacking facilities in at least 216 plants in 33 states, and at least 74 reported worker deaths, according to a Midwest Center analysis.

Cheap chicken, beef came at a cost. How American meat plants bred coronavirus hot spots.

The meatpacking industry has evolved into a marvel of modern efficiency, producing 105 billion pounds annually of poultry, pork, beef and lamb destined for dinner tables across America and the world. That’s nearly double what it produced three decades ago.

But its evolution came at a cost. The same features that allow a steady churn of cheap meat also provide the perfect breeding ground for airborne diseases like the coronavirus: a cramped workplace, a culture of underreporting illnesses, and a cadre of rural, immigrant and undocumented workers who share transportation and close living quarters.