Reynolds considers additional business openings while defending Iowa’s OSHA office

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

Gov. Kim Reynolds defended state workplace-safety regulators Tuesday and said she is considering adding to the list of businesses that will be allowed to reopen.

Speaking at her daily press briefing, Reynolds said she plans to make an announcement Wednesday about the Iowa businesses that remain shuttered in an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re continuing to see positive trends and so we’re going to continue to monitor that and look for opportunities to continue to bring more businesses on line,” Reynolds said at her daily press briefing. “What we see when we work with the associations for the different businesses is that they’re really being proactive in reaching out to us and talking about the good practices that they’re putting in place so that they can actually apply social distancing and they can limit the capacity of their businesses and just various things that they’re trying, to be proactive.”

At present, all Iowa bars, casinos, indoor theaters, bowling alleys, pool halls, museums, zoos, skate parks, swimming pools, arcades and playgrounds must remain closed at least through May 27.

OSHA process ‘normal and appropriate’

Reynolds also responded to allegations that Iowa’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration office failed to provide a timely response to a complaint that alleged workers in the Tyson Foods plant in Perry were exposed to COVID-19 due to crowded conditions there. Reynolds said it appears the agency followed “the normal and appropriate process” in handling the complaint.

On Monday, the Associated Press reported that the complaint was made April 11 to the Iowa OSHA office, which then took nine days to ask for a response from Tyson. Eight more days passed before the office heard back from the company, the AP reported, citing documents obtained under the Iowa Open Records Law. The OSHA office then determined Tyson’s operations were “satisfactory” and closed the case without an inspection.

Reynolds disputed that timeline, saying the complaint “came in, online, through the federal system, over the weekend, it came in on the 13th.” April 13 was a Monday. “They responded within five business days, in writing, which was on the 20th,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds added that by the time of the response, state OSHA officials were already talking to plant managers who “had already, proactively, made the decision to shut down the facility.”

Iowa reports decrease in new COVID-19 tests, new cases and deaths

On Tuesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported two additional deaths in Iowa the previous day, bringing the total statewide number of fatalities to 367.

A total of 52 additional Iowans tested positive for the virus — a sharp decrease from the previous day’s 233 positive tests. During that same period, the number of tests that were administered fell from 3,295 to 774.

To date, a total of 15,296 Iowans have tested positive for COVID-19.

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.