I will never forget the week of January 1, 2021, hearing every person I encountered, whether it was family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, clients, or the clerk at the local grocery store, proclaim in cheerful form, “Thank Goodness 2020 is behind us!” Most would go on to proclaim further, many in an even brighter tone, “I can’t wait for 2021!” Neither could I.
And it was, for a few cheerful months, a wonderful beginning to the New Year. Until reports began to trickle in about the mysterious COVID-19 delta variant first detected in India. It was more easily transmissible, the experts cautioned. It could be more virulent, others warned. If we’re not careful, the experts lectured, the world and economy we were building back could come crashing down. And their threats eventually proved true. At the same time we began shedding those horrific masks and getting ready to declare our independence from COVID-19 altogether, the federal government began mandating the country back to the place we had just been.
Indeed, the mandates started coming. In early August 2021, FSIS declared that all employees of federally regulated establishments would be required, without exception, to follow the most current CDC guidance (i.e., wear masks) whenever FSIS inspection personnel were present. Notably, this included all establishment personnel who were fully vaccinated against COVID. So, establishments were forced, in many cases begrudgingly, to comply. But, what would happen if they didn’t?
While the early August FSIS Notice was amorphous, at best, with respect to the consequences of failing to wear a mask in the presence of an FSIS inspector, FSIS has now made those consequences clear. In a late-August announcement, FSIS directed all District Manages to withhold inspection service from any establishment whose employees are not consistently following the mask requirements. Thus, if masks are not being warn, FSIS will shut the establishment down.
But meatpackers were not the only ones under pressure. Only a few weeks later, in early September, President Biden mandated that all federal employees become vaccinated. The mandate also required any company employing more than 100 employees to force their employees to become vaccinated or undergo weekly testing (paid for by the employer). If employees refused, the company could be fined up to $14,000 per violation. Thus, in many cases, employees who oppose vaccines are either being let go or deciding, on their own, to stop coming to work. In turn, without sufficient employees, many companies which would have survived the pandemic are now, in fact, shutting down.
As I look at our dismal progress over the last six months, I truly hope the next six months will be better. Meat processors, and meat consumers alike, have been under extreme stress over the last eighteen months, and many are in desperate need for relief. I hope relief arrives, and I hope it arrives quickly. As 2021 continues to churn along like a slow hurricane, I now find my family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, clients, and the clerk at the local grocery store, now proclaiming that they “can’t wait for 2022 to come…”
I hope it gets here fast.