Tyson Foods Temporarily Closes Down Major Iowa Pork Plant After Outbreak

/// Doc URL: Slug: AP-US-Virus-Outbreak-Pork-Plants Headline: Officials implore Tyson to close plant amid virus outbreak Summary: More than a dozen Iowa elected officials implored Tyson Fresh Meats to close their Waterloo pork processing plant, saying the coronavirus is spreading among workers and is endangering not only employees of the plant but the entire community. Mayors, county officials and state legislators signed the letter that was sent to Tyson on Thursday. The 19 officials said at a Friday news conference they had only received confirmation from the company that it had received the letter but no other action .The officials also accused Gov. Kim Reynolds of misleading Iowans on the seriousness of the outbreak and for failure to take action to close the plant. Extended Headline: More than a dozen Iowa elected officials implored Tyson Fresh Meats to close their Waterloo pork processing plant, saying the coronavirus is spreading among workers and is endangering not only employees of the plant but the entire community Urgency: Non Urgent Junkline: Pronto Story. Only edit in Pronto. Byline: By DAVID PITT Bytitle: Associated Press Dateline: DES MOINES, Iowa DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — More than a dozen Iowa elected officials on Friday implored Tyson Fresh Meats to close their Waterloo pork processing plant, saying the coronavirus is spreading among workers and is endangering both employees and the surrounding community. Mayors, county officials and state legislators signed the letter that was sent to Tyson on Thursday. The 19 officials said at a Friday news conference they had only received confirmation from the company that it had received the letter but no other action. “I’m really fearful that if Tyson management doesn’t address this issue effectively, their workforce will either voluntarily stop coming to work or be too sick to work,” Waterloo Mayor Quinten Hart said. “Our hope was that in a time of crisis when we’re all made equal that we would inherently do the ethical, morally right thing that wasn’t done. Company spokeswoman Liz Croston said Tyson has been working with local, state and federal officials and is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. She said worker temperatures are taken before entering the plant, masks are required and cleaning has been increased as has distancing between workers. Our primary focus is protecting our people while continuing to fulfill our critical role of feeding families in this community and around the nation, while providing market continuity for hundreds of area hog farmers,” Croston said. The Waterloo area officials also accused Gov. Kim Reynolds of misleading Iowans on the seriousness of the outbreak among the nearly 3,000 workers at the plant and for failure to take more aggressive action. Hart said he contacted Reynolds' staff and the Iowa Department of Public Health on Wednesday morning seeking immediate closure of the plant. Reynolds contacted him that afternoon, Hart said, assuring him the state was taking proactive measures. Reynolds said at her daily news conference Friday that the state’s goal is to avoid closing the plant, which can process 19,000 pigs a day. She said the state is working with Tyson to test employees at facilities in Columbus Junction and Waterloo, and to trace their connections to others to identify community spread. Testing was completed Friday in Columbus Junction, where Tyson officials said two workers had died following an outbreak where at least 148 workers have been infected. The plant has been closed since April 6 but the company hopes to reopen it next week. Reynolds said 2,700 tests were sent to the Waterloo plant and they will be processed at a state laboratory over the weekend. Iowa Department of Public Health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter said the plant hasn’t reached the point of requiring closure. “We will continue to keep an eye on the data but that’s really the reason were helping the facilities with the surveillance testing because we do believe that the CEOs at these companies want to do the right thing, want to keep their employees healthy,” Reisetter said. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The outbreak at the Waterloo plant comes amid similar problems that have forced the closure of meat processing plants across the country, including a pork plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where hundreds of workers have tested positive; a beef plant in Greeley, Colorado, where at least two workers have died; and several meat plants in Pennsylvania where many workers are ill. On Friday, Tyson announced four workers had died at a poultry plant in Georgia after being infected with the coronavirus. Álso Friday, there were 19 reported cases of the coronavirus identified at a large JBS pork plant in Worthington, Minnesota, according to the union that represents most of the 2,000 workers at the facility. State health officials said seven cases have been confirmed and the number is expected to rise. The plant remains open.
A Tyson Fresh Meats plant stands in Waterloo, Iowa, date not known. On Friday, April 17, 2020, more than a dozen Iowa elected officials asked Tyson to close the pork processing plant because of the spread of the coro... A Tyson Fresh Meats plant stands in Waterloo, Iowa, date not known. On Friday, April 17, 2020, more than a dozen Iowa elected officials asked Tyson to close the pork processing plant because of the spread of the coronavirus among its workforce of nearly 3,000 people. (Jeff Reinitz/The Courier via AP) MORE LESS
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April 22, 2020 3:05 p.m.
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Tyson Foods suspended operations Wednesday at an Iowa plant that is critical to the nation’s pork supply but was blamed for fueling a coronavirus outbreak in the community.

The Arkansas-based company said the closure of the plant in Waterloo would deny a vital market to hog farmers and further disrupt U.S. meat supply. Tyson had kept the facility, its largest pork plant, open in recent days over the objections of alarmed local officials.

The plant can process 19,500 hogs per day, accounting for 3.9% of U.S. pork processing capacity, according to the National Pork Board.

More than 180 infections have been linked to the plant and officials expect that number to dramatically rise. Testing of its 2,800 workers is expected to begin Friday. Cases and hospitalizations in Black Hawk County have skyrocketed in recent days and local officials say the plant is the largest source of infections.

In addition to those who have tested positive for the virus, hundreds of workers were staying home out of fear, and the plant had been running at reduced production levels.

Employers have struggled to contain the virus in meatpacking plants, where workers toil side by side on production lines and often share crowded locker rooms, cafeterias and rides to work. While plants have added safety measures, public health experts say social distancing is virtually impossible.

Several facilities have temporarily closed due to virus outbreaks, including a Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and a JBS USA plant in Worthington, Minnesota. Others have stayed open or resumed production after pauses for worker testing and cleaning.

Tyson Fresh Meats president Steve Stouffer said the closure in Iowa was driven by “the combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns.” He warned of “significant ramifications” for the farmers, distributors and grocers in the supply chain.

Tyson said workers would be compensated during the shutdown and that the timing of reopening would depend on several factors, including testing.

The Black Hawk County Board of Health requested Tuesday that Tyson or Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds temporarily close the plant. The board warned that its continued operation would exacerbate the spread of the virus in the county.

A 65-year-old employee in the plant’s laundry department died Sunday after contracting the virus, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported.

Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart and local officials had called for a shutdown, saying Tyson was putting its workforce in danger. Iowa’s worker safety agency said Tuesday that was investigating the plant.

The governor blocked local authorities from closing the plant in an April 16 order that banned social gatherings in northeastern Iowa. It granted the exclusive power to the Iowa Department of Public Health to shut down businesses over coronavirus concerns.

The governor and the department had been working with Tyson to keep the plant open.

Reynolds argued that the economic disruption caused by plant closures outweighed the health risks, warning that farmers would potentially have to euthanize their pigs. She said that “people are gonna get” the virus in large workplaces but most will experience mild or no symptoms.

Lawmakers said an earlier closure would have better protected public health and been less harmful economically. “My concern is the impact this has had because we didn’t act soon enough,” said Democratic Rep. Ras Smith of Waterloo.

The governor didn’t respond directly when asked Wednesday if the state should have intervened. She defended her overall response to the crisis but said, “There’s always more we could have done.”

Tyson resumed operations Tuesday at its pork plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, which had been shut down for two weeks after an outbreak infected hundreds and killed two workers.

___

Associated Press writer David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.

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