On April 22, Jose Andrade-Garcia turned 62. There should have been ice cream cake, and a big party with the grandchildren at home in Marshalltown, but the patriarch was in Iowa City, about 100 miles away, and a Zoom call was the best anyone could do.
Through the rectangular frame of her cellphone, Maria Andrade saw her father. He wore a white gown. His eyes were closed; his eyelids swollen. His dark hair was turning white. His face was unshaven. He had a feeding tube in his nose and a breathing tube in his mouth. Was this the same man she'd known all her life? Just three weeks earlier, he was strong and healthy and going to work.
At the JBS pork processing plant in Marshalltown, Jose spent more than 20 years cutting the meat from the bones. Some days he couldn't wash the smell away. But he kept working to support his children and give them a chance to find something better.
It's not clear when the first worker at the Marshalltown plant tested positive for Covid-19. Responding to the pandemic, the company instituted new safety measures: physical distancing, enhanced disinfection, mandatory use of masks, requiring sick workers to stay home, and many others.
The virus tore through American meatpacking plants in April and May. At a JBS plant in Greeley, Colorado, eight workers died.
No one can know where or how Jose contracted the virus. According to Maria, her father said his coworkers appeared to be sick in early April. A few days later, he told her he was feeling short of breath. He kept working until April 13. He took a coronavirus test on April 16. On April 17, when he could barely draw enough breath to speak a full sentence, Maria called for an ambulance.
She watched him on the birthday Zoom call, in a coma from which he would never emerge, and after his death she wondered what else she could have done.
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