The New York Times has reported on the picture on a single day last of the contrasting news across the U.S. in the coronavirus pandemic — improvement in some places and reverses in others, including Arkansas.

Around Rogers and Springdale in northwest Arkansas, which the virus had barely touched in the pandemic’s early weeks, poultry workers spent part of Wednesday planning a protest as outbreaks in at least two plants were driving a sudden surge in infection numbers.

The dizzying volatility from city to city and state to state could continue indefinitely, with vastly different policy implications for individual places and no single, unified course in sight.

Some states are seeing vast improvements. But as the pandemic progresses, parts of the country may eventually need to reimpose restrictions, Dr. Tom Inglesby, the director of the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, said.

The article focused in part on poultry plant-related illnesses in Arkansas. Monday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson praised the poultry industry in Arkansas as a model for the country in workplace practices.


The article noted a huge jump in cases in Arkansas, from 97 on the day that was studied, to around 200  or more a day Thursday, Friday and through the weekend. The article attributed many of the cases to poultry plants, where workers labor in close quarters. The Arkansas Department of Health provided an Poultry COVID Clusters Summary as of June 2. (This information updates an earlier post.)

In rural Yell County, the site of two poultry processing outbreaks, cases grew tenfold over two weeks. In more densely populated northwest Arkansas, home to the headquarters of Walmart and Tyson, the number of known cases has more than tripled since the start of May, fueled in part by outbreaks at poultry plants.

Magaly Licolli, a co-founder of Venceremos, an advocacy group for Arkansas poultry workers, said employees at the plants had watched nervously as food processing facilities in other states reported outbreaks. Then their own co-workers, many of them immigrants, started falling ill.

“They are so terrified of going to work because they feel that they are being led to slaughter,” Ms. Licolli said. She added: “It’s a very dark time for many of them. Many of them have pre-existing conditions.”

Given what happened at meatpacking plants elsewhere, Ms. Licolli said the new spikes in northwest Arkansas seemed almost inevitable. On Friday, state officials reported cases at a third poultry plant in the region.

“We knew that we were going to get to this point,” she said.

The comments mirror those in a recent article we published from the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network.