State Issues 'Gag Order' Hours Before Rumors Of COVID-19 Prevalence At Nebraska City
NEBRASKA CITY - Hours before workers at a Nebraska City food processing plant were informed of prevalence of COVID-19 in the workplace, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced that state health workers will no longer be able to report COVID-19 data from meat processing plants.
Grant Brueggemann of the Southeast District Health Department says he expects county-by-county cases to still be reported, but not specific data on food processors.
The Southeast District has previously reported seven cases within its boundaries and has not indicated a workplace for any of them.
Elkhorn Logan Valley Health Director Gina Uhing had provided updates on the Tyson plant in Madison, Neb. Her final report indicated 220 cases. Public Health Solutions' last report prior to the governor's order said the Smithfield Plant in Crete had seen 139 positive cases.
Tyson Foods ran national newspaper ads saying the food supply chain is breaking on April 26, days before President Trump classified U.S. meat plants as critical infrastructure. The President’s order prevents local health agencies from closing plants down.
Gov. Pete Ricketts said Wednesday that the state won't be releasing specific numbers of cases at meatpacking plants, saying it's a matter of privacy.
On Tuesday, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson announced that he and AGs from 10 other states are urging the US Justice Department to investigate allegations of price fixing by meat packers in the cattle industry.
A press release from Peterson’s office says the four largest meat packing companies control more than 80 percent of the beef processing in the United States. He said the shelf price of beef is high while the cattle prices are low.
Peterson: “The concern over market manipulation has increased with beef prices reaching record levels as consumers stockpile meat in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but cattle prices remain low and are decreasing.”
A Reuters article released Thursday quotes Cargill Spokesman Dan Sullivan.
Sullivan: “We believe the assertions lack merit, and we are confident in our efforts to maintain market integrity and conduct ethical business.”
Sullivan did not immediately respond to a News Channel Nebraska message inquiring about COVID-19 in Nebraska City.