Officials have now confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks at four Iowa meatpacking facilities. More than 700 of the employees at Tyson’s plant in Perry — that’s 58 percent of the workforce — have tested positive for the virus.
The company had refused to reveal data about the infection rate among employees, but the information was released today (Tuesday) during the governor’s daily news conference.
Iowa Department of Public Health deputy director Sarah Reisetter said the state epidemiologist has determined it’s necessary to release information when infection rates or absenteeism surpasses 10 percent at a facility “such as a congregate setting in which social distancing is impossible or impracticable, including but not limited to meat packing plants, food and beverage processing plants, factories with production lines and warehouses.”
Among the other packing plants, testing confirmed 258 positive COVID cases at Iowa Premium Beef in Tama, which represents 39 percent of the workforce. Twenty-six percent of employees at Tyson’s Columbus Junction pork plant and 17 percent of workers at Tyson’s Waterloo pork plant who were tested had COVID-19. Governor Kim Reynolds said the data doesn’t indicate where the employees contracted the virus.
“Sometimes this is household spread,” Reynolds said late this morning. “Sometimes it’s community spread, sometimes it’s congregate spreading of the virus and the facilities.”
An outbreak was also confirmed at TPI Composites, the wind turbine blade factory in Newton, where officials say 13 percent of employees who were tested had the virus.
Reisetter said having employers report when 10 percent of their workforce is out sick or has tested positive for COVID-19 is similar to the reporting criteria used to monitor flu season.
“It’s a consistent standard that we apply as we’re looking at flu activity throughout the state,” Reisetter said. “We ask schools, for example, to report to the department when they have more than 10% of their students out ill and so it’s just building off what we use for influenza surveillance.”
Governor Reynolds today announced 408 new coronavirus cases in Iowa. She said the recent spike is due to expanded testing and the governor is quoting the Iowa National Guard’s adjutant general.
“As General Correl says, ‘We’re fishing where the fish are,'” Reynolds said today, “so it’s no wonder our daily case counts have grown over the last few weeks.”
Lab results through 10 a.m. Monday had confirmed a total of over 10,000 cases of COVID-19 in Iowa since testing began in March.
“The fact is we can’t prevent people from getting the COVID-19 virus. If we weren’t testing in these areas, people would still have the virus and without being tested, diagnosed and isolated, it could spread even further,” Reynolds said.
In addition to other modes of testing, another “Test Iowa” drive through site will be established in Cedar Rapids Thursday. People are currently getting tested after filling out information on the “Test Iowa” app in Des Moines, Waterloo and Sioux City.
(This posted was updated at 1:15 p.m. with additional information.)