Reynolds: Iowa industry is ‘doing the right thing’ and protecting workers

By: - April 16, 2020 1:58 pm

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference at the State Emergency Operations Center, Thursday, April 16, 2020, in Johnston, Iowa. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall, /AP pool)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday the state is largely relying on its “partners” in business and industry to protect food-plant employees and other essential workers from COVID-19.

At her daily press conference Thursday, Reynolds was asked how the state intends to hold Iowa corporations accountable for protecting their workforce from the spread of the virus. The governor said she believes Iowa’s employers are acting responsibly.

“You know, I think employers are doing the right thing and they need to continue to do the right thing,” she said. “We’re going to continue to work with them and be a partner … We want to make sure individuals take individual responsibility. Like, I can’t monitor every single person across the state. We have to put in place some guidelines and we have to encourage and educate.”

The Waterloo Courier reported Thursday that workers at Tyson Fresh Meats in Black Hawk County are claiming the company is allowing people with respiratory symptoms to continue working and is covering up the presence of the virus within the plant.

Hundreds of workers at the Waterloo plant have reportedly refused to report for work due to what they feel is inadequate protection, the Courier reported.

Company officials have said there is no outbreak at the Waterloo plant, and say they’ve implemented protective measures. Tyson’s Columbus Junction plant in Louisa County has been closed since April 6 due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

Reynolds said as she talks to representatives of Iowa’s largest employers, she inquires as to whether they have everything they need and asks what steps they are taking to protect their workers. She said the owners understand they “have a vested interest” in keeping their workforce healthy so the business can stay up and running.

Reynolds acknowledged that food plants and nursing homes are the hardest hit areas in terms of COVID-19 outbreaks within Iowa.

“We’re working with the businesses to make sure that they’re implementing safe and good practices and practicing as much social distancing as they can,” she said. “That’s not always something that they’re able to do.”

Reynolds didn’t respond to a question about who at the state level is investigating complaints from Iowans who say they’re being forced to work while sick. She said she has told Iowa companies “that it’s so important that your employees know that if they are sick they should stay home.”

Reynolds has previously referred Iowans who have concerns about workplace safety to the state’s Legal Advice Hotline.

Reynolds calls on northeast Iowa to stop social gatherings

Reynolds reported that the northeast region of Iowa has reached a score of 10 on the state’s risk-assessment scale for COVID-19. She had previously said she’d consider a stay-at-home order for any region that scored 10 on the scale.

Beginning on Friday, Reynolds said, all gatherings for social, community, recreational, leisure or sporting activities in that region must cease, at least through April 30. Text of her emergency proclamation is here.

She said residents of that region will be able to gather only with members of their immediate household. Exceptions will be made, she said, for “weddings, funerals and other religious gatherings,” but even in those cases gatherings will be limited to 10 or fewer people.

She said residents of the region can still leave their homes but will be “required to make every reasonable effort to stay at least six feet away from others.”

Businesses in the region are facing no additional restrictions but are being “encouraged to follow guidance” from the state regarding infection control, she said.

The region includes Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Clayton, Delaware, Dubuque, Fayette, Grundy, Howard, Jones, Linn and Winneshiek counties.

Reynolds acknowledged the new restrictions in that region aren’t too different from the guidelines already in place statewide.

“It has just basically gone from (allowing) gatherings of 10 or fewer to really limiting it to households — except for the few, very narrow exceptions that we’ve laid out and those were already in place,” she said. “It requires everyone in the (region) to do everything absolutely possible to social distance, to at least stay six feet apart.”

Reynolds reported two additional outbreaks at Iowa nursing homes — the Linn Manor care center in Linn County and the Lutheran Living Senior Campus in Muscatine County — bringing Iowa’s total number of nursing home outbreaks to nine.

She reported 146 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 2,141 cases in 82 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Seven additional deaths were reported, bringing that total to 60. At this point, 49 percent of the Iowans who have died were residents of long-term care facilities.

There are 175 Iowans currently hospitalized with COVID-19, Reynold said, 84 of them are in intensive care and 48 are on ventilators. As of Thursday, 987 Iowans had already recovered from the virus, for a recovery rate of 46 percent.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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