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Admiral Brett Giroir, who is coordinating the administration’s coronavirus testing efforts, reported at the Sunday White House press conference that the United States has performed more than 894,000 coronavirus tests to date, cheering that the number has “highly significantly increased every single day.”

But that figure pales in comparison to a promise President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have made repeatedly, for weeks: that millions of tests have already been distributed throughout the country.

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NEW YORK (AP) — Macy’s says it will stop paying tens of thousands of employees who were thrown out of work when the chain closed its stores in response to collapsing sales during the pandemic.

The majority of its 130,000, including stock people and sales clerks, will still collect health benefits but the company said that it is transitioning to an “absolute minimum workforce” needed to maintain basic operations. Macy’s has lost the bulk of its sales due to the temporarily closing of its stores starting March 18.

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This story first appeared at ProPublica. ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Here’s what has happened in the meatpacking industry in the last week alone:

A federal food safety inspector in New York City, who oversaw meat processing plants, died from the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

A poultry worker in Mississippi, employed by America’s third largest chicken company, tested positive for the virus, causing a half-dozen workers to self-quarantine. Another worker in South Dakota, employed by the world’s largest pork producer, also tested positive.

In Georgia, dozens of workers walked out of a Perdue Farms chicken plant, demanding that the company do more to protect them.

And Tyson Foods told ProPublica on Friday that “a limited number of team members” had tested positive for the disease.

As COVID-19 makes its way across the country, leading to panic grocery buying in state after state, the stresses on the nation’s food supply chain have ratcheted ever higher. But in industries like meatpacking, which rely on often grueling shoulder-to-shoulder work, so have the risks to workers’ health.

In interviews this week, meat and poultry workers, some in the country without authorization, noted with irony that they have recently been labeled “essential” by an administration now facing down a pandemic. Yet the rules of their workplaces — and the need to keep food moving — pressure them to work in close quarters, even when sick.

And it’s unclear how federal regulations that traditionally protect workers from harm in their workplaces will address a potentially deadly coronavirus.

“They are listening about social distancing on the TV and some of them try to practice it in their home, but when they go to work, they can’t do it,” said Father Roberto Mena, who ministers to many poultry workers at St. Michael Catholic Church in Forest, Mississippi.

Many of the nation’s meatpackers declined to respond to specific questions about how they’ve dealt with infected workers or what they’ve done to try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in their plants. Or they offered vague assurances that workers are being protected.

So far, only two meatpacking companies — Tyson Foods and Cargill — have announced companywide temperature checks to screen employees for signs of the virus. Two more say they have begun rolling them out.

But except for unionized plants, meat and poultry workers rarely get paid when they’re sick. At many companies, including Tyson, workers receive disciplinary points for calling in sick. Because points lead to termination, workers told ProPublica, they and some of their colleagues have continued to work even when sick, despite the coronavirus.

“We are all afraid,” said Maria, who works on the evisceration line at a Tyson plant in Arkansas and asked to be identified by her first name. “The problem is if people feel sick, they’re not going to say anything because they need the money. They don’t want the points.”

In an email, Tyson said it had recently altered its policies to allow workers who contract the coronavirus or exhibit symptoms to apply for short-term disability without a waiting period. “This is an evolving situation and we’re continuing to consider additional measures to support our team,” spokesman Worth Sparkman said. “We don’t want team members who feel sick to come to work.”

Tyson announced this month it was “eliminating any punitive effect for missing work due to illness.” But Maria said that at her plant, nothing had changed.

Despite the “essential” role meat and poultry workers play in the food chain, the sick-time bill signed by President Donald Trump last week doesn’t cover most meat and poultry workers because it exempts companies with more than 500 employees.

The uncertain economy, with millions of people filing jobless claims last week, is adding to the tension.

At Koch Foods in Mississippi, Ramirez, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant who asked to go by his last name, said a woman who worked near him showed up for her shift last week with a heavy cough. But after she told her supervisor, he said, she was told she couldn’t come back. The message was clear, he said. So, when he started feeling sick a few days later, he simply kept quiet and continued working.

“People are worried,” Ramirez said, that if they say they are sick, “they’ll fire us.”

Going to the doctor is not an option, he said, because he doesn’t have health insurance and fears it could expose his immigration status.

Koch Foods didn’t respond to calls and emails asking about its policies for sick workers.

Even before the coronavirus, the meat industry had complained of a labor shortage as low pay and harsh conditions collided with a tight labor market, tighter borders and dramatic reductions by the Trump administration in the number of refugees, who make up the backbone of many plants’ workforce.

While there’s no evidence that the coronavirus can be transmitted through food, workers say they fear it could spread among them, even though they wear butcher coats and latex gloves, and the plants are sanitized every night.

If it does, it could take out a critical cog in the nation’s food supply chain just as it struggles to keep up with increased demand, workers and their advocates said. Grocery meat sales, excluding deli meat, surged a staggering 77% for the week ending March 15, according to one industry analysis.

To meet the demand, companies have been scrambling, adding additional weekend shifts and changing lines to produce whole birds and bigger cuts of beef. Under pressure from unions and wage increases at supermarkets and warehouses, some companies like Cargill and National Beef have announced temporary $2 per hour bonuses for the next several weeks to retain their workers and reward them for sticking through difficult times.

Company executives have said that the empty shelves aren’t a sign of a food shortage and that they’re capable of meeting the surge, aided in part by lower demand from restaurants that have been ordered to close.

“Our primary focus is to keep our plants running so that we can feed America,” Tyson’s president, Dean Banks, said on CNN. “We’re running the plants as hard as we can.”

And some analysts note that even if an outbreak of the virus forced a plant to close, the industry — with more than 500,000 employees at 4,000 slaughterhouses and processing plants across the country — is big enough to absorb the loss.

Tim Ramey, a retired food industry analyst, said “there could be significant disruptions” in a company’s output if an outbreak occurred. But supermarkets and restaurants buy meat from many suppliers, he said, and another plant could pick up the slack.

“There are plenty of ways you could have risk to the worker supply,” Ramey said. “I doubt that would be enough to disrupt the food supply.”

But no one knows what would happen if multiple plants suffered outbreaks.

The closest precedent may be immigration raids, which have temporarily shuttered meat and poultry plants periodically over the last 25 years. For months after, those plants struggled to find new workers and ramp up to speed. But the supply lines continued to feed America.

Some immigrant workers caught up in those raids now marvel that the country is leaning on them. Last summer, after finishing his shift pulling the guts out of thousands of chickens, Ramirez flipped on his TV and watched in shock as immigration agents descended on central Mississippi, rounding up hundreds of his coworkers in the Trump administration’s biggest immigration sting.

In the weeks that followed, Ramirez watched the three children of a friend who’d been detained and hunkered down at home, fearing he could be next. It was easy to feel disposable, he said, especially when Trump praised the raids as “a very good deterrent.”

Now, when Ramirez watches the news, Trump is calling workers like him “critical,” telling them, “you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.”

“I don’t understand, if they have a big need for all of the workers,” Ramirez asked, “why aren’t they worried about us?”

The slaughtering of chickens, hogs and cattle has become increasingly automated in the last few decades. But several tasks on the disassembly line still have to be done by hand. In poultry plants, in an area known as “live hang,” workers in a small, black-lit room crowd around a trough grabbing live chickens by their feet and hanging them on shackles.

In another area known as “debone,” workers stand side by side cutting raw chicken into breasts and tenders, so close that they occasionally cut coworkers with their knives.

In pork plants, workers are so packed together that a little over a decade ago, two dozen workers at a Minnesota factory developed a neurological illness from inhaling aerosolized pig brains that drifted from a nearby station that was making an ingredient used in stir-fry thickeners.

So even as everyone from the president to SnoopDogg are urging people to stay home and avoid groups of more than 10 people, meat and poultry workers are required to do the opposite.

ProPublica asked the nation’s largest meat companies what they were doing to try to achieve social distancing. Cargill, which produces billions of pounds of beef and turkey for supermarkets and restaurants each year, was the only company that said it was doing anything other than staggering start and break times. Daniel Sullivan, a spokesman for the Minnesota-based meatpacker, said it had increased spacing in its factory work areas and put up partitions in its cafeteria.

The evisceration line where Maria, the Tyson employee, works doesn’t have as many people as other parts of the factory because it is heavily automated. But she said that because workers can’t leave the line unless it’s an emergency, she regularly encounters large crowds as everyone rushes to the bathroom during breaks. The company has placed hand sanitizers at the entrance, she said, but inside the plant, the bathrooms don’t always have paper towels.

As COVID-19 cases at the plants become public, workers fear it’s only the beginning.

On Monday, Sanderson Farms, the nation’s third largest chicken company, said an employee at its McComb, Mississippi, plant had tested positive for the virus. Sanderson said the employee’s work area was contained to one small processing table. In response, the company notified its workers and sent six other employees in the work area home to self-quarantine with pay.

The company did not respond to calls or emails seeking additional information.

On Thursday, a worker at pork producer Smithfield Foods’ plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, tested positive. The company told the Argus Leader that the employee’s work area and all common areas were “thoroughly sanitized.” But it did not say anything about workers who might have come in contact with the employee.

There have been even fewer details about the federal food safety inspector who died. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement that he was “terribly saddened to hear” that one of the department’s employees had passed away due to the coronavirus and thanked “those working on the front lines of our food supply chain.” But the department did not specify which plants the inspector had worked in or what had been done to alert or quarantine others the inspector may have been in contact with.

Paula Schelling, a union representative for the nation’s food inspectors at the American Federation of Government Employees, said the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service needs to do more to protect its front-line workers.

“FSIS is doing nothing to provide any protection for any employee who is out in the field,” she said. “They are just saying, ‘We are following the CDC guidelines.’ What does that mean to us?”

Concerns that meat companies aren’t being forthcoming have already led to increased anxiety at several plants. Workers who walked out of the Perdue plant in Georgia said the unrest started because supervisors dismissed concerns that some employees were continuing to work despite being in contact with people who had the coronavirus.

“We’re not getting nothing,” Kendilyn Granville told a TV news reporter outside the plant Monday night. “No type of compensation, no nothing, not even no cleanliness, no extra pay — no nothing. We’re up here risking our life for chicken.”

Perdue spokeswoman Diana Souder said that after speaking with managers, the majority of those who walked out returned to work.

“We know that many are feeling anxious during these uncertain times and we’re doing everything we can to take good care of our associates while continuing to produce safe and reliable food,” she said.

Typically, when workers feel unsafe, they can complain to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But it’s unclear how OSHA will respond to complaints related to the coronavirus. The agency, which has seen its ranks depleted under the Trump administration, has issued guidance for employers. But there is no specific standard related to the virus, and the agency has not said how it might interpret its general duty clause, which requires employers to keep their worksites free from recognized hazards that might cause death or “serious physical harm.”

Employers are only required to notify OSHA when an employee is hospitalized, suffers an amputation or is killed at work. But under a patchwork of rules, some employers might have to notify their state and local health departments.

As cases started to pop up this week, some employers began offering additional pay. Perdue said it would provide all hourly workers a $1-per-hour raise for the next several weeks. Hormel, the maker of Spam, said it would offer a $300 bonus for full-time workers and $150 for part-time associates.

On Thursday, the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents 250,000 food processing workers, said it had negotiated additional pay and benefits increases, including a $600 bonus in May for its members at the nation’s second-largest meatpacker, JBS, which includes Pilgrim’s chicken. JBS spokesman Cameron Bruett did not answer whether the company would match that for nonunion employees.

Several large meat and poultry companies, including Tyson, Smithfield, Sanderson and Koch, have not announced raises or bonuses.

On Friday, Perdue told ProPublica it was starting to roll out temperature checks at its plants. And Bruett said JBS had set up “triage stations” outside plants to screen employees for temperature and symptoms. But it’s unclear if all employees will be tested or only those exhibiting symptoms.

Meanwhile, Venceremos, a group advocating for poultry workers in northwest Arkansas, has started a petition asking that Tyson and other processors provide paid sick leave for workers as the coronavirus begins to spread to rural America.

“Everyone is realizing that they are essential and have been essential to the country,” said Magaly Licolli, one of the group’s leaders. “And now it’s time that everybody should demand fair rights for them. That’s what we’ve been arguing all this time. They are the ones that provide for the country.”

Do you have access to information about how businesses are protecting — or not protecting — workers from the coronavirus that should be public? Email michael.grabell@propublica.org. Here’s how to send tips and documents to ProPublica securely.

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This article first appeared at ProPublica. ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

President Donald Trump’s excitement about decades-old anti-malarial drugs to treat the coronavirus has touched off widespread interest in the medications, hoarding by some doctors, new clinical trials on the fly and desperation among patients who take them for other conditions.

Many experts say there isn’t enough evidence that the drugs work for the coronavirus, but at least a few say there’s little to lose in giving hydroxychloroquine to patients who are severely ill with coronavirus.

“It’s unlikely to worsen COVID-19, and given that it might help … we have literally nothing else to offer these patients other than supportive care,” said Dr. David Juurlink, an internist and head of the division of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Toronto in Canada.

Here’s what we know and don’t know about the drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, also known by the brand name Plaquenil.

What We Know

The drugs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but not for the treatment of the coronavirus.

The drugs have been around for decades and are approved by the FDA. Hydroxychloroquine has been approved for the prevention and treatment of acute attacks of malaria, as well as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Chloroquine is approved to prevent and treat malaria.

At a briefing on March 19, Trump suggested that the FDA had approved hydroxychloroquine for treatment of the coronavirus, which is not accurate. At the same briefing, Dr. Stephen Hahn, the FDA’s commissioner said: “That’s a drug that the president has directed us to take a closer look at, as to whether an expanded-use approach to that could be done to actually see if that benefits patients. And again, we want to do that in the setting of a clinical trial — a large, pragmatic clinical trial — to actually gather that information and answer the question that needs to be answered and — asked and answered.”

That said, doctors are generally allowed to prescribe drugs for unapproved uses.

A number of hospitals are using the drug to treat patients with the coronavirus.

The University of Washington, the University of Michigan and other academic medical centers have added hydroxychloroquine to their treatment protocols. “Hydroxychloroquine is an inexpensive and generally safe drug for short term use, with few drug-drug interactions,” the University of Washington protocol says. “While it is unknown if it is effective to treat COVID-19, there is a favorable risk:benefit and cost ratio. Multiple trials are ongoing, and this recommendation will be updated when further data is available.”

While Trump has talked about the combination of hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin, also known as Zithromax, the University of Michigan recommends against the use of azithromycin for use in treatment of COVID-19, calling the evidence “weak.”

Patients who rely on hydroxychloroquine for other conditions can’t get it.

As we reported last week, patients with lupus have not been able to refill their prescriptions. Anna Valdez, a nurse in California, told us that without the drug, she will likely have a disease flare or have to switch to stronger immune suppressing medicines that could, paradoxically, put her at more risk of serious consequences should she contract the coronavirus.

“When I think about the other people out there with lupus and other autoimmune disorders, we’re all really scared right now,” Valdez said a week ago. “If I get coronavirus, unlike someone else my age, almost 50 years old, who is likely to recover and will be fine, I will likely end up in the ICU.”

According to a report by BuzzFeed News, health insurer Kaiser Permanente seems to be prioritizing getting the drug to COVID-19 patients above patients with lupus. The insurer told a California patient that it would not refill her prescription for hydroxychloroquine. “Thank you for the sacrifice you will be making for the sake of those that are critically ill; your sacrifice may actually save lives,” her doctor’s office said in a message.

A Kaiser regional medical director told BuzzFeed that Kaiser, like other health care organizations, “has had to take steps to control the outflow of the medication to ensure access to severely sick patients, including both COVID-19 and those with acute lupus.”

She said the decision wouldn’t adversely affect lupus patients. “Extensive experience and research show that hydroxychloroquine builds up in the body and continues to work for an average of 40 days even after the last dose is taken. By then, we expect the drug manufacturers to have ramped up production to meet the increased demand.”

Some doctors and their families are hoarding the drug.

We reported that pharmacies and state pharmacy boards are concerned about hoarding by doctors and their families.

“It’s disgraceful, is what it is,” said Garth Reynolds, executive director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association. “And completely selfish.”

“We even had a couple of examples of prescribers trying to say that the individual they were calling in for had rheumatoid arthritis,” he said, explaining that pharmacists suspected that wasn’t true. “I mean, that’s fraud.”

Some state pharmacy boards have put in place restrictions on prescribing of the drug. And the American Medical Association called on doctors to stop hoarding the drug.

“The AMA is calling for a stop to any inappropriate prescribing and ordering of medications, including chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, and appealing to physicians and all health care professionals to follow the highest standards of professionalism and ethics,” said Patrice A. Harris, president of the American Medical Association.

In a memo to his staff on Thursday, Dr. Craig R. Smith, the chair of surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, responded to the reports of hoarding. “Doesn’t that make you proud?” he wrote sarcastically. Instead, he encouraged randomized double-blind clinical trials to assess whether the drugs work.

There are efforts to increase the supply of the drug, but other moves could tighten it.

Several drugmakers have said they plan to step in. Novartis said it would donate up to 130 million doses of generic hydroxychloroquine globally to support the response to COVID-19. Other companies have also pledged millions of doses.

At the same time, the Indian government last week imposed a moratorium on the export of hydroxychloroquine, except under certain conditions including “humanitarian grounds on case to case basis.” India is a major supplier of generic drugs used in the United States.

Conservative groups and television hosts are talking up the benefits of the drug.

As we reported last week, a conservative business group is pushing the Trump administration to use hydroxychloroquine, saying in an online petition that “red tape, regulation, and a dysfunctional healthcare supply chain” are impeding the ability of plants in the United States to produce the drug.

The Job Creators Network, founded by Republican political donor and Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, has taken out Facebook ads and texted supporters to sign a petition urging the president to “CUT RED TAPE” and make the drug available.

Fox News likewise has been touting the drug. Tucker Carlson said: “Several days ago, the president expressed confidence in hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the epidemic. That was it for the media. If Trump is for it, they’re against it, even if it might save American lives.” He added: “What reactive children they are. And they immediately began a sustained push to discredit the drug long before the clinical results were in.”

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Friday tweeted a quote from a conservative activist who falsely called hydroxychloroquine 100% effective at treating COVID-19 and said Michigan’s governor was threatening doctors who prescribe it, Mediaite reported. (The drug has not been shown to be 100% effective and Michigan, like many states, has warned doctors against hoarding the drugs for themselves.) Twitter removed Giuliani’s tweet because it violated the site’s rules.

And cardiac surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz enthusiastically spoke of the drug on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program: “So we don’t want people using this stuff willy nilly. You must talk to your physician. But a lot of doctors here in New York and around the country are getting comfortable with the idea of using this earlier in the course of the treatment of their patients.”

Clinical trials are underway.

New York state, which has been the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, has acquired 70,000 doses of hydroxychloroquine, 10,000 doses of azithromycin and 750,000 doses of chloroquine to be used in clinical trials.

“The president is optimistic about these drugs, and we are all optimistic that it could work,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on March 22. “I’ve spoken with a number of health officials, and there is a good basis to believe that they could work. Some health officials point to Africa, which has a very low infection rate, and there’s a theory that because they’re taking these anti-malaria drugs in Africa, it may actually be one of the reasons why the infection rate is low in Africa. We don’t know, but let’s find out and let’s find out quickly. And I agree with the president on that.”

The University of Minnesota is also enrolling patients in a clinical trial. But it isn’t getting enough volunteers, according to ABC News. In a story Wednesday, ABC reported that the lead investigator is seeking 1,500 volunteers for one clinical trial, “but in the week since he obtained FDA approval, he has managed to recruit only 411.” Only 25 of 1,500 volunteers needed for a second trial had signed up.

Some people are self-medicating with harmful results.

Banner Health in Arizona reported last week that a man died and his wife was hospitalized after the couple, both in their 60s, took chloroquine phosphate, an additive commonly used at aquariums to clean fish tanks. “Within 30 minutes of ingestion, the couple experienced immediate effects requiring admittance to a nearby Banner Health hospital,” the system said.

The man’s wife told NBC News that she saw the president’s briefings in which he promoted the value of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. “I saw it [chloroquine phosphate] sitting on the back shelf and thought, ‘Hey, isn’t that the stuff they’re talking about on TV?’” she told the network. “We were afraid of getting sick.”

On Saturday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that “chloroquine phosphate, when used without a prescription and supervision of a healthcare provider, can cause serious health consequences, including death. Clinicians and public health officials should discourage the public from misusing non-pharmaceutical chloroquine phosphate (a chemical used in home aquariums).”

What We Don’t Know

Whether the drugs are effective at treating the coronavirus.

One small study in France seemed to suggest that hydroxychloroquine, combined with azithromycin, could work as a treatment for COVID-19. A different small study out of China suggests that hydroxychloroquine was not effective in patients compared with those who did not get the medication.

“I think this is an example where the speed of the virus is moving faster than the speed of the evidence,” Joel F. Farley, a professor at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, wrote in an email to ProPublica.

Juurlink of the University of Toronto said he supports the use of the drugs in patients with serious illness but not those with mild symptoms or to try to keep people from getting infected.

“I might have a completely different answer a month or two from now once we have better data,” he said. “I have no idea whether the advice I’m giving you is good or not, but it’s the best I can come up with as of March 27.”

Update, March 30, 2020: Late Sunday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said that drugmakers had donated tens of millions of doses of hydroxychloroquine to the Strategic National Stockpile and that the Food and Drug Administration had issued an emergency authorization that allows hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to be distributed from the stockpile and prescribed for patients with COVID-19 “when a clinical trial is not available or feasible.” A release by HHS said that “although there are no currently approved treatments for COVID-19, both drugs have shown activity in laboratory studies against coronaviruses. … Anecdotal reports suggest that these drugs may offer some benefit in the treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Clinical trials are needed to provide scientific evidence that these treatments are effective.”

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