A spokesperson for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has told CBS News that about 145 field employees were absent from work as of April 28 due to exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Additionally, an inspector from the New York City area, one from the Chicago area and one from Mississippi have died, reports CBS News.

Paula Schelling, acting president of AFGE Council 45, which represents the inspectors, gave the FSIS a failing grade for protecting its own employees.

"Every day there are inspectors going into facilities where there are known positive COVID-19 cases," she said. "People are still going in there and doing inspection."

Schelling also noted that plants do not have to notify inspectors if an employee there has tested positive for COVID-19. "Inspectors can hear it second-hand at best when they're not notified," she said.

The USDA has not provided personal protective equipment to inspectors but has rather given tham a $50 stipend to buy or make their own masks. The department is still working to "identify PPE needs in the food supply chain," the USDA spokesperson said Monday.

In addition to the inspectors, at least 5,000 meat processing employees have tested positive for COVID-19 or are awaiting test results, along with 1,500 food processing workers. At least 20 employees have died from the virus, and 22 meat or poultry plants have closed at some point within the last two months.

Source: CBS News