Coronavirus has swept through a Tyson pork processing plant in Storm Lake, Iowa, with 555 employees of 2,517 testing positive, fueling renewed concerns over safety measures at meatpacking plants.
On Wednesday, with suspicions the plant was the site of a new outbreak, Iowa’s Department of Public Health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter said the state would only confirm outbreaks at businesses where 10% of employees test positive and only if the news media inquires about them specifically.
According to the Des Moines Register, cases in Buena Vista County more than doubled on Tuesday, and Reisetter is now confirming around 22% of the employees at the Storm Lake facility tested positive.
“We’ve determined confirming outbreaks at businesses is only necessary when the employment setting constitutes a high-risk environment for the potential of Covid-19 transmission,” Reisetter added.
On April 28, President Trump signed an executive order using the authority of the Defense Production Act to compel meat processing plants to remain open, but it hasn’t stopped facilities from shuttering to address low staffing and safety issues.
Tyson was previously forced to shut down its largest pork processing facility, located in Waterloo, Iowa, on April 22 following a number of coronavirus cases stemming from the plant, as well as worker absenteeism.
Other meatpacking facilities across the state have also been forced to address outbreaks, including plants owned by Smithfield Foods and JBS.
State lawmakers and mayors in Iowa have complained about not getting information about the ongoing situations at meatpacking facilities until it’s too late. Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott said because Tyson isn’t based in the state, they don’t need to report numbers to them. Iowa Rep. Ras Smith criticized Governor Kim Reynolds and the Department of Health’s stance on the delays in reporting numbers.
Food processing facilities have been the site of numerous outbreaks around the country, with Trump pushing for them to remain open amid fears of food shortages. Earlier in May, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the largest meatpacking workers union, derided Trump’s executive order, saying that since its signing, “The administration has failed to take the urgent action needed to enact clear and enforceable safety standards at these meatpacking plants.” There are 18,524 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Iowa.