Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is asking its meat inspector employees to obtain protective gear for themselves — despite a national shortage — after an employee died from the novel coronavirus, Politico first reported.

Why it matters: USDA meat inspectors are responsible for checking product safety and labeling, but virtually all 8,000 of them have been left without face masks. The department is offering single $50 reimbursements for inspectors who obtain their own face masks.

  • Unions say the department has a responsibility to ensure workers have ample gear to keep themselves.
  • And meat packing plants often face close employee proximities, meaning social distancing is limited.

America is also at threat of a potential meat shortage due to factories shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • A Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., last week was the largest single hotspot of coronavirus cases in the U.S.

What they're saying: "FSIS must maintain inspection of all meat, poultry, and egg products to ensure Americans continue to have a safe food supply during the evolving COVID-19 pandemic," a USDA spokesperson told Axios.

  • "USDA and CDC, in conjunction with other federal, state, and local partners, are working together to identify, coordinate, and, where requested, help provide guidance on worker safety best practices and facilitate the continuity of operations of packing plants and other entities that are part of the food supply chain critical infrastructure."

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Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Chris Christie: Wear a mask "or you may regret it — as I did" — Senate Democrats block vote on McConnell's targeted relief bill.
  2. Business: New state unemployment filings fall.
  3. Economy: Why the stimulus delay isn't a crisis (yet).
  4. Health: FDA approves Gilead's remdesivir as a coronavirus treatment How the pandemic might endMany U.S. deaths were avoidable.
  5. Education: Boston and Chicago send students back home for online learning.
  6. World: Spain and France exceed 1 million cases.

Early voting eclipses 2016 total with 12 days until election

People stand in line to vote early in Fairfax, Virginia in September. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Americans have cast more than 47.1 million ballots in the 2020 presidential election, surpassing the total early-vote count for 2016 with 12 days left until Election Day, according to a Washington Post analysis of voting data.

Why it matters: The election is already underway, as many states have expanded early and mail-in voting options because of the coronavirus pandemic.

What to expect from the final debate of the 2020 election

Trump and Biden at the first debate. Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Image

Watch for President Trump to address Joe Biden as “the big guy” or “the chairman” at tonight's debate as a way of dramatizing the Hunter Biden emails. Hunter's former business partner Tony Bobulinski is expected to be a Trump debate guest.

The big picture: Trump's advisers universally view the first debate as a catastrophe — evidenced by a sharp plunge in Trump’s public and (more convincingly for them) private polling immediately following the debate.