Two workers at a meat processing plant in West Dallas died of COVID-19 in the last few days. And on Tuesday, family members blamed Quality Sausage Company for not shutting the plant down earlier, as soon as there were signs of infection among employees.
“It’s very hard for us and I think this is unfair,” said Blanca Parra Gonzalez, the longtime partner of Hugo Dominguez, who died Saturday. Speaking outside the plant, Parra Gonzalez alternated between English and Spanish and fought back tears. “This COVID-19 is the worst thing that’s happened in this world. It’s not fair that my kids no longer have their dad.”
The plant temporarily halted operations on Friday. In a statement emailed to KERA, the company said it was assessing its “response to the COVID-19 crisis, including completing testing of all employees.” The company said it expects the review to wrap up this week.
Several of the nation's largest meat processing plants have been shuttered after COVID-19 infections, cutting pork production by at least 25%. President Trump signed an executive order Tueasday that requires meat plants to stay open to avoid shortages.
A spokeswoman for Dallas County confirmed to KERA that the county is looking into cases of COVID-19 at Quality Sausage Company.
“Although the facility is not regulated by the County, health officials from DCHHS [Dallas County Health and Human Services] have been in communication with them,” the spokeswoman said.
Dominguez died the day after Quality Sausage stopped production. The other employee was Mathias Martinez, who died the day before, according to Carlos Quintanilla, a community activist.
'I don't want to get you sick'
Parra Gonzalez said she and Dominguez hadn’t seen each other in person since March 21; they'd been communicating by video conference calls.
They made that decision after Dallas County announced its shelter-at-home order. He stayed with cousins. She stayed in Plano.
“He says, ‘I don’t want to get you sick or my kids too.’" Parra Gonzalez said. “He always wanted to protect us and take care of us.”
She said Dominguez wanted to continue working – he worked alone in shipping and receiving. And she added that the company wanted him to work because other employees were calling in sick.
He was told to stay home if he tested positive for COVID-19, she said.
Dominguez’s brother, Pablo Dominguez Aguilar, said the last time he saw his brother was also on a video call.
“I feel very sad about the death of my brother,” he said. “I didn’t know he had [COVID-19] until he started having [symptoms of] diarrhea.”
They initially thought he might have eaten something that made him sick. Then he developed body aches and had his temperature checked at the plant. Dominguez had a fever and was sent home. The fever got worse and he developed a cough. He died on the way to the hospital, his brother said.
KERA asked Quality Sausage Company to comment, and the company responded with an email statement saying it had implemented safety measures including:
- Extensive daily sanitation of plant, including common areas and offices.
- Increasing access to hand sanitizing stations.
- Improving distancing among employees.
- Temperature monitoring of all workers entering the plant.
- Testing of all employees.
Carlos Quintanilla, the activist who's working with the families, says that despite those measures, working at the plant was risky for employees.
“They put production and profits before the safety of their workers,” Quintanilla said. “They had to deliver the product. They had to finish.”
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