Reynolds: No plans to order shutdowns at meat plants

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, IA, on April 20, 2020. (Photo by Olivia Sun/Pool, The Des Moines Register)

Gov. Kim Reynolds said meatpacking plants will remain “essential” businesses because of the country’s reliance on Iowa’s pork supply, despite multiple outbreaks reported at facilities.

Out of the 389 total positive COVID-19 cases reported Sunday, 261 of those stemmed from testing at Iowa’s meatpacking facilities, according to the governor’s office. 

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. Tyson reported  84 positive tests from 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.

However, Reynolds said she is not planning to issue any executive orders to restrict business at meatpacking plants as she has done for other industries, such as dining and hospitality. 

Because of the country’s reliance on Iowa for pork production, Reynolds said plants are essential, both because of the nation’s food supply chain and for farmers who need to send hogs to slaughter.

Reynolds said Iowa produces one-third of the nation’s pork supply. There are economic consequences for both businesses and consumers if plant production is halted, including increased prices at grocery stores and a back-up of hogs at farms, she said.

“This isn’t like a regular facility where you shut it down for two weeks,” Reynolds said. “If we aren’t able to move them through the process at some point we’re going to have to be talking about euthanizing hogs. We’re not that far from it.”

While Reynolds said she is holding regular conversations with business leaders from Tyson and other meatpacking facilities, she is leaving cleaning and mitigation strategies up to them.

“Right now, they have been complying,” Reynolds said. “I don’t believe it’s going to take an executive order at this time.”

Testing is complete at the Tyson plant in Columbus Junction and at National Beef in Tama, Reynolds said. About 1,500 tests have been sent to three clinics in Waterloo to test employees at the Tyson Fresh Meats plant.