More than 260 meatpacking workers test positive for COVID-19

An image of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.(Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Rocky Mountain Lab)

More than 260 people were found to be positive for COVID-19 in expanded surveillance testing related to meatpacking plant outbreaks, the state reported Sunday.

The positives from meatpacking employees made up 67% of the 389 total positive cases reported in Iowa Sunday.  Iowa has recorded a total of 2,902 positive cases to date.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Friday the state was sending 2,700 tests to the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Waterloo, where an outbreak was first reported Thursday.  Sunday’s report includes results from 84 positive tests of Tyson employees out of over 500 completed surveillance tests and 177 positive employees at the National Beef Plant in Tama out of over 500 completed tests.

National Beef announced April 11 that it was closing its plant until April 20.

Black Hawk County, where the Waterloo Tyson plant is located, has reported 192 positive COVID-19 cases to date.  Twenty local city, county and state elected officials signed a letter asking the Tyson plan to temporarily close for cleaning, to complete employee testing and to prevent the spread of the virus when the plant reopens. Tyson said it did not plan to close, according to the Waterloo Courier.

Three Waterloo state legislators said Sunday they have filed a complaint with the Iowa Division of Labor alleging workplace safety violations at the Tyson plant in Waterloo. The complaint claims Tyson Fresh Meats failed to protect its employees from exposure to “recognized COVID-19 hazard in the workplace” and that it “did not act on useful CDC mitigation methods deemed effective when utilized by various other industries.”

“Given the huge spike in positive cases in Black Hawk County over the last week, the accounts we’ve heard from employees at Tyson can no longer be ignored,” state Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, said in a news release. He filed the complaint with Rep. Timi Brown-Powers and Sen. Bill Dotzler, both Waterloo Democrats.

“We need immediate action from Governor Reynolds and Tyson to stop the outbreak in our community, protect workers, and save lives,” Smith said. “The longer they wait, the worse the destruction in our community will be.”

There have been a total of 212 positive cases reported in Louisa County, where the Tyson plant in Columbus Junction has been closed since April 6 due to an outbreak.

A Muscatine County resident with COVID-19 has died, bringing the total number of deaths in Iowa to 75.

The state has reported an additional 1,214 negative tests for a total of 21,648 negative tests to date reported by the State Hygienic Lab and other labs.

More information about COVID-19 testing and monitoring in Iowa is available on the Iowa Department of Public Health’s website. People with questions about COVID-19 can call the state’s hotline at 2-1-1 or 1-800-244-7431.