Special Report: In Oklahoma pork-packing town, COVID stirs fear, faith and sorrow
Added 05-23-20 03:10:03pm EST - “Over 25 years, the massive pork plant that dominates this small city brought jobs, new residents and an economic lifeline to a slowly shrinking farming community.” - Reuters.com
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GUYMON, Okla./WASHINGTON - (Reuters) - Over 25 years, the massive pork plant that dominates this small city brought jobs, new residents and an economic lifeline to a slowly shrinking farming community.
Attracted by relatively good wages at Seaboard Foods, immigrants like Felix and Pilar Jimenez arrived by the hundreds to slaughter hogs and process meat for shipment all over the world. The Mexican couple started work in Guymon, on the vast plains of Oklahoma’s panhandle, about a year after the plant opened, followed in time by their sons Michael, now 26, and Anthony, 22.
In recent months, as in so many U.S. cities with meat- packing operations, COVID-19 ripped through the plant and surrounding community, bringing economic uncertainty, fear and - in the case of the Jimenez family - tragedy.
Seaboard reports that, as of May 21, 641 of its some 2,700 employees tested positive for the virus - roughly a quarter of its workforce. Pilar, Michael and Anthony Jimenez all got sick. So did Felix, 56, who had been mostly homebound as he recovered from heart bypass surgery. He died May 9.
Guymon is part of the coronavirus’ new frontier - mostly rural communities with large meatpacking plants where employees often work inches apart, carpool to their jobs and live in crowded or multi-generational homes.
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