CORONAVIRUS

Outbreak at Tyson Foods pork plant causes Iowa coronavirus numbers to spike

Still, Southeast Iowa score improves but Northeast Iowa's worsens

Chart of coronavirus cases in Iowa (daily counts) on April 14, 2020.
Chart of coronavirus cases in Iowa (daily counts) on April 14, 2020.
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JOHNSTON — A coronavirus outbreak that last week idled a Southeast Iowa pork processing plant has swelled with the addition of 86 new cases, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Tuesday, driving the largest one-day tally of confirmed cases since the disease was detected in Iowa a month ago.

The new cases at the Tyson Foods plant in Columbus Junction in Louisa County fueled the 189 daily case increase, for a total of 1,899 positive cases to date. Officials said 163 people are hospitalized and 790 others have recovered.

Another six Iowans died as a result of COVID-19, bringing the total to 49. Two of the deaths were from Linn County — one individual between 41 and 60, and another between 61 and 80. Tama and Scott counties each recorded a death of someone age 81 or over, and Polk County reported someone between 18 and 40 died. Pottawattamie County marked its first death, of an individual between 61 and 80.

Reynolds said the Iowa Department of Public Health has been working with Louisa County health officials and leaders at the Tyson plant in an effort to slow the spread there. She said the state sent 200 testing swabs Monday to the plant, and continued to assist in testing Tuesday.

And she said state and local public health officials are working to determine the geographic impact of the outbreak, given that many of the plant’s workers do not live in Columbus Junction. State data shows that 145 people in Louisa County have tested positive so far.

Reynolds said leaders at the plant, which is temporarily closed, are taking mitigation steps.

“They have really been, I think, very proactive and making sure that when they stand the plant back up, they’re doing everything that they can to not only protect the employees but to continue a really critical piece of our food supply chain,” Reynolds said Tuesday at the State Emergency Operations Center at Camp Dodge during her daily briefing on the state’s coronavirus response efforts.

The governor said her administration also has reached out to other, similar meat packing facilities to urge them to take precautions.

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On Monday, the Iowa Premium beef plant in Tama closed after several of its employees tested positive for the virus.

Over the weekend, the much larger Smithfield pork processing plant in South Dakota closed after an outbreak.

“It’s incredibly important because that is a part of the food supply chain. So we have to make sure that we’re not only protecting employees, but were doing the recommendations that have been put in place by the Department of Public Health,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds also said new outbreaks have been detected at three more long-term care facilities.

That brings to a total of six the number of long-term care facilities the state classifies as having outbreaks: Bartels Luthern Retirement in Bremer County (six positive cases as of Monday afternoon); Heritage Specialty Care in Linn County (102 cases); On With Life (22 cases) and Trinity Center at Luther Park (six cases), both in Polk County; Premier Estates of Toledo in Tama County (47 cases); and McCreedy Home in Washington County (19 cases).

In addition, local officials Monday identified Linn Manor Care Center in Marion as the site of an outbreak after two residents died and three staff members tested positive for the virus.

Despite the spike in cases at the Tyson plant, the Southeast Iowa health care region it is in continued Tuesday to improve its overall score.

Region 5, which also includes Iowa City, Burlington and Davenport, merited an overall score of 7 — down from 8 the day before and 9 the week before.

However, the overall score of Northeast Iowa’s Region 6 — which includes Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Dubuque — worsened, increasing from 8 to 9.

Data was not available Tuesday evening to explain the changes.

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A state matrix, without providing many other details, says a 14-day stay-at-home order could be considered if a region reaches a score of 10.

The outbreaks in food processing plants and long-term care facilities matches with what experts have learned about how the novel coronavirus spreads rapidly through people gathered in close proximity, said state epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati.

The virus “does seem to move efficiently among people who are in close contact and who live together,” Pedati said. “Unfortunately what we’re seeing is a reflection of the spread of the illness that we knew about sort of moving in the community.”

The state planned to introduce a revamped website for Iowans, at coronavirus.iowa.gov. showing resources and the latest statistics.

However, technical glitches meant that largely outdated data was were displayed most of the day. As of Tuesday night, the state had not released information showing the locations and age ranges of the latest positive cases.

Comments: (563) 333-2659; erin.murphy@lee.net

John McGlothlen of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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