COVID-19 measures and industrial workplaces

A Twitter essay by Nora Loreto (@NoLore) on December 16, 2020

Screenshot of first tweet in tread (in readable text below)

Folks, here is a very important thread about COVID-19 measures and why they will not slow the spread of COVID enough. It’s simple — the most aggressive public health measures are missing the biggest driver of the pandemic: large industrial workplaces.

Last week, Alberta, Canada, finally imposed a lockdown. They ordered businesses and services to either close or massively reduce their capacity. If you are allowed to operate, you must only operate at 15% of your fire code capacity.

Except, in the appendix to the order, businesses are defined (pdf). And what businesses are auspiciously not there? Large congregant settings — food processing, industrial manufacturing, energy, etc. Of the current active outbreaks, large congregant facilities account for 25 of the 64 outbreaks. Of the rest, 21 are services that serve people in some kind of need, and some offer residential services. Of the 64 active outbreaks, only FIVE would be rendered illegal by last week’s new measures.

If workplace outbreaks are being driven by locations that are not being impacted by public health orders (aside from being forced to ensure that people inside are wearing masks) — how are the infections supposed to stop?

Now add to this the fact that schools and residential facilities have even more outbreaks, and that contact tracing is nonexistent in the region, creating a huge amount of community spread, you can see that at best, cases will slow, but not nearly enough, if superspeader workplaces keep open.

The obsession that media has had with small businesses has hidden all of this. Search for articles in Alberta about how the lockdown will impact people and there is no shortage of articles about small businesses. But if you search for an analysis that tries to link the outbreak at Suncor or Amazon to schools or daycares or community spread, you pretty much come up empty (there are like two exceptions). The difference in coverage is stark. It has hidden the real culprit from average people.

Why am I focusing on Alberta? Because it’s the only province that has named every single outbreak. In Ontario, the biggest outbreaks are lumped into a set of “other” workplaces. Other. No information about what those could be … but Alberta gives us a very clear hint.

So as you’re stuck in doors, unable to see your family because this is what it has come to, this is how our politicians and PH officials have decided we will ride out this pandemic, know that your sacrifices could have been different. We could have tackled the biggest problems.

Instead, you are in quarantine so that Amazon can make more money, so that Syncrude can destroy more habitat, so that Olymel and Maple Leaf can slaughter more pigs and chickens. And not just so that you can order online or eat cheap bacon … it’s all to ensure that our social order remains firmly intact; one that creates mass misery just so that the wealthy among us can profit even more, off the backs of essential service workers who are getting sick and dying to keep Canada’s economy humming along.

Editors — I am begging you. Stop getting journalists to cover small businesses. Take the month off and look into how large congregant facilities are driving spread in your region.


Further Readings and References

Blackwell, Tom. “More than 400 COVID-19 cases at Amazon warehouses in Ontario amid concern over industrial spread of virus,” National Post, Dec 18, 2020.

City of Toronto. COVID-19: Status of Cases Toronto.

Factory Farm Collective. Number of COVID-19 Cases in Canadian Slaughterhouses and Meat Processing Plants. Updated Dec 20, 2020.

Harvey, David. (1998). The body as accumulation strategy. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 16, 401-421.

Holland, Hereward. “DR Congo Locks down Mining Area, Some Workers Repatriated over Coronavirus.” Reuters, March 23, 2020.

Jr, Richard A. Oppel, Robert Gebeloff, K. K. Rebecca Lai, Will Wright, and Mitch Smith. “The Fullest Look Yet at the Racial Inequity of Coronavirus.” The New York Times, July 5, 2020, sec. U.S.

Lam, Andrew. 3 August 2020. Racial COVID-19 Disparities in Toronto.

Loreto, Nora. Dataset: Deaths in Residential Care in Canada by facility.

Narayan, Badri. “Covid-19: Reducing Migrant Labour to Biological Body with No Human Value.Business Standard India, April 7, 2020.

Saxton, Devera I. (2015). Strawberry fields as extreme environments: The ecobiopolitics of farmworker health. Medical anthropology34(2), 166-183.

Stanley, A. (2014). Wasted Life: Labour, Liveliness, and the Production of ValueAntipode 47(3): 792–811.