CORONAVIRUS

Congressman wants answers about Iowa meatpacking plant outbreak

Dave Loebsack 'deeply concerned' about report showing Tyson had more cases than state publicly acknowledged

The Tyson Foods pork processing plant is seen in April in Columbus Junction. The coronavirus outbreak at the Iowa meatpa
The Tyson Foods pork processing plant is seen in April in Columbus Junction. The coronavirus outbreak at the Iowa meatpacking plant was more severe than previously known, with over twice as many workers becoming infected than the Iowa Department of Public Health publicly confirmed. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack said Friday that he’s “deeply concerned” about an Associated Press report that showed the first known coronavirus outbreak at an Iowa meatpacking plant was far more severe than the state publicly acknowledged.

Loebsack wrote a letter to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds requesting answers to several questions about the state’s response to the outbreak at the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Columbus Junction.

Loebsack’s letter came two days after the AP reported on documents showing that Tyson officials reported to workplace safety inspectors April 30 that 522 employees were known to be infected. A dozen were hospitalized and two died.

But at a May 5 news conference, the Iowa Department of Public Health said 221 workers at the plant had tested positive.

The department and the company now say that number reflected only the first round of testing at the plant, but neither updated the public on the true scope of the outbreak.

“I am deeply concerned that by concealing information about the true extent of the virus’ spread, the IDPH only served to further risk the health and safety of these essential workers, and in doing so, the health and safety of their families and the entire surrounding community,” Loebsack wrote. “Iowans deserve access to the truth about the presence of this virus in their communities and their places of work.”

Loebsack asked Reynolds on what date she learned of the 522 cases, whether anyone has been held accountable for providing misinformation, and what steps have been taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

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Loebsack, an Iowa City Democrat, also asked whether the Republican governor will commit to posting up-to-date information on plant outbreaks online and why the state declined offers of assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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