Workers and shipments dispersed from one Tyson meatpacking plant to 48 states. Mapping their phone data shows how outbreaks at meatpacking plants could spread the coronavirus across the US.

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Workers and shipments dispersed from one Tyson meatpacking plant to 48 states. Mapping their phone data shows how outbreaks at meatpacking plants could spread the coronavirus across the US.
A man shops in the meat section at a grocery store, April 28, 2020 Washington, DC.Drew Angerer/Getty Images
  • Of the 10 biggest COVID-19 hotspots across the US right now — excluding prisons — seven are linked to meat processing plants.
  • New phone location data show that people — potentially including workers and truckers carrying shipments — moved from one meatpacking factory in Indiana to 48 states and Canada in the month of March.
  • The data show that the COVID-19 outbreaks currently threatening meat supply chains in the US could have impacts beyond just the local communities surrounding meatpacking plants.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Meatpacking plants across the US have remained open amid the COVID-19 outbreak following an executive order from President Donald Trump meant to protect the nation's food supply chain.

But now, meat processing plants have a COVID-19 problem: Other than prisons, 7 of the 10 biggest coronavirus clusters in the US right now are linked to meatpacking plants.

While the outbreaks are currently being felt most harshly in the communities where plant workers live, new phone location data shows people moving between meatpacking plants and nearly all 50 states, indicating that outbreaks connected to the plants could have broader impacts.

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Cass County, Indiana — home to a Tyson meat processing plant — currently has more COVID-19 cases per capita than New York City. Data visualization firm Tectonix GEO tracked used anonymized phone location data from the Cass County Tyson plant to show where people who were inside the factory in the month of March subsequently traveled.

The data show devices — possibly owned by workers, truckers, or other visitors — moving from the plant to 48 states and Canada throughout the month of March.

A Tectonix spokesperson told Business Insider that the data could provide useful insight to lawmakers and industry leaders attempting to safely protect the supply chain, noting that it illustrates "the potential of these facilities to affect society well beyond the plants themselves in the COVID era."

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The location data comes from X-Mode Social, an analytics company that's able to track the precise location of smartphones across the globe using software built into apps that people download. The practice has been protested by privacy advocates, but location data firms and their partners insist that people's movements are anonymized and not directly tied to their identities.

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