If you work at a small business that got hammered during the mandatory COVID-19 lockdowns, the USA Today report on Triumph Foods must have made for some interesting reading.
Take away the question of whether Triumph Foods and the city of St. Joseph did enough to protect workers at the plant. Take away the harrowing descriptions of how the coronavirus affected the immigrant workers who are too often overlooked and marginalized in St. Joseph.
If you own a small business or mom-and-pop store that practically went under this spring, you have to wonder where all this extreme caution was when it was time for the city to pull the plug on your business.
All you can do is speculate, because most city and Triumph Foods officials are exhibiting radio silence in the wake of a lengthy newspaper report that chronicled a coronavirus outbreak that infected hundreds at the meatpacking plant.
Debra Bradley, the city health director, deserves credit for at least trying to answer questions. She correctly states that she lacked official authority to take action to close the plant and that President Donald Trump issued guidance that sought to keep meatpacking facilities open. Although it was a chaotic time of fast-moving events, her recollection is surprisingly fuzzy on whether she even advocated for closure, a key detail in retrospect.
Chris Clark, the Triumph Foods spokesperson, also issued a response to the article. However, instead of a forthright answer or explanation, he resorts to the playbook of blaming the media for “misleading, inaccurate and incomplete information.” He did not explain what information he was referring to.
As for the mayor and the rest of the City Council, they are taking a page from “How to mishandle a crisis” by refusing to answer questions and hoping the problem goes away. Maybe they’re right. We certainly hope another spike in cases doesn’t leave policymakers in the unenviable position of balancing the need for a stable food supply with the safety needs of an at-risk work force, which is really what this comes down to.
We would certainly like to know if they have any regrets, if they would do anything differently, if it makes sense to close so many smaller businesses while workers remain crammed elbow-to-elbow at one of St. Joseph’s largest employers.
Wouldn’t that be nice, to know that there’s an ability to self-evaluate and correct mistakes the next time something like this happens?
It might be wishful thinking. Until this story came out, the city, the state and the company didn’t even level with us about the number of people connected to the plant who tested positive. Everyone thought it was 490, but it turns out it was around 600.
It’s a small thing to ask.