More than 400 new COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in northwest Iowa’s Buena Vista County. Storm Lake, the county seat, has two Tyson meat processing plants, but Governor Kim Reynolds today said no business in the county has a confirmed outbreak, which is considered to be when 10 percent of the workforce is either out sick or tests positive for coronavirus.
“At this point they have not met the criteria,” Reynolds said, “but you know we’re testing to make sure that we understand what the scope of that is and how we can start to isolate those that are testing positive, immediately start the case investigation so that we can get the negative individuals separated, look at how we separate the shifts and how we continue to move forward to minimize — as much as possible — a potential spike.”
One of the state’s Test Iowa drive-through sites for COVID-19 screenings has been operating in Storm Lake since mid-May. The governor has said testing resources are being deployed to areas where virus activity seems to be increasing.
“It helps us identify the numbers,” Reynolds said late this morning. “It helps us start immediately the contract tracing or case investigation so we can understand the scope and make sure that Iowans in the area are aware of what we’re seeing and provide them the additional information to be cautious when they’re out in the community.”
Tyson Foods released a written statement about what it called “large scale COVID-19 testing in Storm Lake.” The company’s spokesman said Tyson “will disclose verified test results, once complete data is available with health and government officials, team members and other stakeholders.”
A state website with data about COVID-19 test results, coronavirus deaths and hospital stays lists nursing homes which are the site of coronavirus outbreaks, but it does not list confirmed outbreaks at businesses, like packing plants. Iowa Department of Public Health deputy director Sarah Reisetter said one reason for the policy is to let the companies first notify workers who may be affected.
“Sometimes it takes us a little bit of time to pull together the information and to understand whether there has been an outbreak in a particular facility,” Reisetter said.
On Tuesday, state officials confirmed outbreaks at Perdue Farms facilities in Sioux City and Sioux Center, based on testing conducted in early May.
“Our business partners are trying to be proactive to let not only their employees know that they have a safe environment to work in and they want to assure them and provide the confidence to them to come to work in a safey environment, but it’s also they’re partners in the community,” Reynolds said during her daily news conference, “so they take that responsibility very serious, too.”
Reynolds also announced this morning that a new “Test Iowa” facility is opening in West Burlington. It’s being run as a public-private partnership between the State of Iowa and Great River Health. The hospital set up a drive-through testing site, but could not get test kits. The kits are now being provided by Test Iowa.
(This story was updated at 2:11 p.m. with additional information.)