CORONAVIRUS

Iowa conducts coronavirus testing at Postville kosher meat plant

400-plus employees tested May 5; no results announced

A coronavirus strike team has tested more than 400 employees at the Agri Star plant in Postville, the nation's largest p
A coronavirus strike team has tested more than 400 employees at the Agri Star plant in Postville, the nation’s largest processor of kosher meat, Results have not been released. (The Gazette)

After reports of an uptick in COVID-19 cases, a strike team tested more than 400 employees at a Postville kosher beef plant.

Results of those voluntary tests — of almost the entire workforce — had not been released Monday morning, employees said.

The testing was requested by Agri Star in April but was not done until May 5 because testing was being done first at other facilities across the state, according to a news release from the company and Allamakee County Emergency Management.

Agri Star employees were tested for current and earlier exposure to the virus.

“This testing was requested as an additional step in the plant’s efforts to protect its employees and ensure its ability to continue operations,” according to the new release.

The Iowa Department of Public Health is reporting 112 positive cases of COVID-19 in Allamakee County, which has a population of 13,880.

The testing will provide “some confidence to the employees to start to see the scope of the virus activity within the community and within the plant,” Reynolds said at her daily news conference Monday.

Testing to identify positive COVID-19 cases will help plant management make changes in its operations and “help employees that test positive to begin on a road to recovery,” she said.

Agri Star did not immediately respond to questions about the testing and the governor’s comments.

Rumors of COVID-19 at the plant have been circulating for weeks in the community of about 2,100 on the Allamakee-Clayton County border about 85 miles north of Cedar Rapids, Mayor Leigh Rekow said.

In mid-March, Agri Star, the nation’s largest kosher meat processor, responded to a report in Yeshiva World newspaper of “growing panic” in Postville after three members of the Jewish community tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from New York City, where they had attended a private party.

At that time, Agri Star confirmed a Postville couple and their adult son were immediately quarantined after showing symptoms of COVID-19 upon their return from New York City. Others who came in contact with the family also were quarantined, but Agri Star said they did not show signs of COVID-19.

The company said it would implement “additional sanitizing and hand-washing procedures.”

“Agri Star will continue to follow recommendations from the CDC and the Iowa Department of Public Health, while continuing to supplement those recommendations with our own enhanced guidelines,” Agri Star said.

A spokeswoman for Allamakee County Public Health said staffers had visited the plant to educate employees on precautions and had been using social media to spread information.

Abraham Aaron Rubashkin, 92, the founder of the processing plant under its former name, Agriprocessors, died of COVID-19 in early April. He lived in New York. It was not known whether he had contact with the Postville family who tested positive for COVID-19.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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