One of the state’s leading advocates for open government says citizens in places like Perry have a right to know when there’s a public health concern at large local employers.
“The fundamental concern I have is the public ought to be informed so that they now what is going on in their community,” says Iowa Freedom of Information Council executive director Randy Evans.
On Tuesday, state officials announced 730 employees at Tyson Fresh Meats in Perry had tested positive for COVID-19. That’s 58 percent of all the workers who were tested. The company had been refusing to reveal how many workers had COVID-19, citing privacy concerns. Evans applauds the Iowa Department of Public Health Department’s decision to start announcing outbreaks at facilities like meat packing plants.
“The public needs to know more rather than knowing less,” Evans says.
But Evans questions the department’s standard for what constitutes an outbreak. State officials will announce there’s a COVID-19 outbreak when at least 10 percent of the employees at a food production plant or other large manufacturing facility are absent or test positive for the virus.
“A business that employs 2000 people, 10 percent who are infected, is a large number of people circulating in the community, potentially,” Evans says.
State Auditor Rob Sand says no corporation or public official should ever claim the federal law on individual health care records “justifies withholding the big picture from the public.” In late April, Sand had called for packing plant outbreak numbers to be made public.