America’s Covid-19 hot spots shed a light on our moral failures (Vox)

It’s no accident that prisons and meatpacking plants are hotbeds of Covid-19.

In 2010, the moral philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah made a list of practices that he believed people in the distant future will condemn our generation of humanity for, much as people in the 21st century almost universally condemn slavery or the denial of women’s suffrage.

His four candidates were the American prison system, which cages about 2.3 million Americans at any given time; the exploitation of animals in factory farms; the abandonment of America’s elderly (and the elderly of many rich countries) in nursing homes; and environmental degradation.

My friend Avi Zenilman, a journalist turned nurse, sent me Appiah’s piece a few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, when Appiah’s list started to read like a premonition. Excluding the environment — climate change specifically, which has gotten a temporary respite as we do much less carbon emitting under quarantine — Appiah’s list doubles as a rundown of the most prominent and brutal vectors of Covid-19 in the US.

Coronavirus outbreaks have been reported at carceral facilities across the country, including pretrial detention centers like Rikers Island where most inmates have not yet been convicted of the offense with which they’re charged; one prison in Ohio reported that 78 percent of inmates tested positive. More humane states are releasing prisoners simply to avoid a medical catastrophe that feels inevitable if they stay caged.

The Tyson, Smithfield, and JBS meat production companies have shut down pork plants that collectively produce 15 percent of America’s pork due to coronavirus spread. Tyson’s CEO took out a full-page newspaper ad warning that the nation’s food supply is breaking down. That’s a ludicrous exaggeration (experts say the US isn’t about to run out of food), but it is true that the factory farming industry is particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 and poses a pandemic risk generally

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