Nearly 1,400 workers at three Tyson Foods pork processing plants in Iowa have tested positive for the coronavirus, the state reported Tuesday.
The Iowa Department of Public Health revealed for the first time that the state’s largest workplace outbreak has been at the Tyson plant in Perry in Central Iowa. There, 730 workers were confirmed to have the virus, a startling 58 percent of those tested, officials said.
The Tyson plant in Waterloo has had 444 workers test positive, and its Columbus Junction plant has had 221 confirmed infections, the department said.
The department said that 258 workers at a National Beef plant in Tama tested positive, as did another 131 employees of a Newton wind turbine blade plant owned by TPI Composites.
The department’s deputy director, Sarah Reisetter, said the state medical director was using her legal authority to release the locations and scope of those five workplace outbreaks after determining the information was in the public interest. The department defines an outbreak as workplaces in which 10 percent of employees are sick or absent.
The department didn’t immediately release the number of workers who died at the plants, but the Associated Press has confirmed at least six.
Two were workers at the Columbus Junction plant, Tyson confirmed,
Tyson, the other employers and public health officials had generally declined requests to release figures showing how many of their workers were infected. The silence was particularly striking in Perry, a town of 7,500 with a large Latino population.
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Tyson had closed its Perry plant for one day last month for cleaning. But the company has not suspended production there as it did for two weeks in Columbus Junction in April.
The Waterloo plant has been idled since April 22 but is expected to reopen soon. At least three workers from there have died.
Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson, who had last month criticized Tyson’s safety practices as inadequate, this week praised the company for significant new measures planned for when the Waterloo plant reopens.
Tyson spokeswoman Liz Croston said the company would not hesitate to “idle any plant for deep cleaning and sanitation when the need arises” and was implementing a host of safeguards. She said all employees returning to work and new hires will be tested and the company is providing face coverings that must be worn, among other steps.
TPI Composites said Saturday it is working on plans to safely resume operations at its wind turbine plant, which had been paused since late last month. At least one of its workers, 54-year-old Kyle Brown, died.
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