One Million Covid Dead in U.S.: Who Pays the Price?

US covid 2020

The United States has reached a terrible milestone: over one million people have died of Covid. This continuing tragedy could have and should have been avoided. But instead of responding to the pandemic by protecting people’s lives, businesses and the government protected profit.

Despite the pronouncements of celebrities and politicians that we are “all in this together,” this was never the case. The death burden of Covid has been distributed incredibly unequally across society. Younger Black and Latino people have died at rates 4 times higher than white people. The poor and working class have seen the highest death rates in the U.S. – with some poor neighborhoods having rates up to 4 times higher than the wealthiest neighborhoods. In fact, one of the deadliest pre-existing conditions was simply being a worker. Essential workers made up over 80% of Covid deaths of those younger than 65 – a staggering toll.

This horrific inequality was revealed by a recent government report documenting how meat-packing companies such as Tyson and Smithfield lied in order to force workers to stay on the job. In spring of 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, the bosses of big meatpacking companies demanded that their factories stay open. They lobbied and cajoled government officials to allow their factories remain open even as Covid cases increased exponentially. In order to justify jeopardizing the safety of their workers, they claimed that there was a meat shortage. The companies announced that there would be massive disruptions to the meat supply if the factories were closed. John Tyson, the Chairman of Tyson’s board, even took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times and the Washington Post that the food supply was “breaking down” and that meatpackers had a responsibility to feed the country.

All of this was a lie. Not only was there no meat shortage, but meat exports by Tyson, Smithfield, and other companies were at their highest levels in years. In fact, Smithfield foods exported 90% more meat during the first three quarters of 2020 than in 2017. The biggest meatpacking companies increased their profits by 120% compared to before the pandemic.

The cost of these profits were the lives of at least 270 meatpacking workers who were exposed to Covid on the job, and likely many more. Over 300,000 cases of Covid have been connected to meatpacking plants, while counties with meatpacking plants have seen per capita Covid infection rates that are twice as high as the average.

One million have died in the U.S., but it’s not because of Covid alone. It’s because of capitalism. Companies have skirted health protections, lied about shortages, and pressured workers to remain on the jobs despite the health risks – all so that the companies could better their bottom line. Capitalism is killing us; it has to be replaced.