Pork Plant In Oklahoma Panhandle Latest U.S. Meat Facility With Major COVID-19 Outbreak; 116 Sick

May 5, 2020

This story was updated at 2:17 p.m. on Tuesday, May 5th, to reflect a response received after publication from Sean Livengood, who is both the mayor of Guymon and a Seaboard Foods employee. Livengood declined comment.

A pork processing plant in Guymon, Okla., is reporting an outbreak of COVID-19 among its plant workers, the latest plant across the country to be struck with cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Kansas-based Seaboard Foods reports that at least 116 employees have tested positive for the virus at the plant in the Oklahoma panhandle. Texas County, Okla., where the plant is located, has reported 236 confirmed cases of COVID-19, though it is unknown how many of the plant employees live outside of Texas County and would not be included in that total.

An employee told the Oklahoman that the company has failed to implement social distancing requirements and that employees inside the facility are still "shoulder to shoulder." 

David Eaheart, a Seaboard Foods spokesperson, declined a request for an interview, instead sending a statement saying that the company does provide employees with masks and access to hand sanitizer, encourages social distancing, and checks the temperature of everyone entering the plant.

"As we adapt our practices to address the challenges created by COVID-19, our expectations are that every employee follows the requirements and guidelines at all times to help protect each other," the statement reads.

Sean Livengood, simultaneously a Seaboard employee and the mayor of Guymon, declined a request for comment. 

An employee who answered the phone at the Guymon plant on Monday morning confirmed that the plant was still open for operations, but abruptly handed the call off to second person, who said they were not authorized to speak to reporters or give their names, citing orders from "upper management."

COVID-19 outbreaks have wreaked havoc on the nation's meat processing facilities. Last month, Tyson Foods shuttered its largest pork plant in the country, in Waterloo, Iowa, and Tyson says more closures are in the works across the country. In mid-April, a Smithfield plant in South Dakota was the nation's worst hotspot for the coronavirus.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, says at least 5,000 meat plant workers nationwide have tested positive for the illness, and at least 20 have died.