Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter on Thursday confirmed the outbreak, speaking at Gov. Kim Reynolds’s daily COVID-19 press briefing.
The IDPH earlier said it would report outbreaks at businesses when 10 percent of the workforce has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, the novel coronavirus that emerged from Wuhan and spread across the world.
Reisetter noted that while there is a “high level of interest” by the public in IDPH announcing COVID-19 outbreaks at businesses, there are factors that challenge the timely transmission of virus-related information.
“Right now the Iowa Department of Public Health becomes aware of outbreaks at businesses when the employers tell us, or when the state facilitates testing at a particular facility. Businesses are not currently required to report outbreaks to the Department of Public Health,” she said.
Reisetter also said that because businesses are accessing testing from a variety of sources and not relying only on state resources, the IDPH is not aware of all the COVID-19 testing that is being conducted.
“Additionally, Iowa law allows confirmation of outbreaks only when necessary to protect the health of the public. We’ve determined confirming outbreaks at businesses is only necessary when the employment setting constitutes a high-risk environment for the potential of COVID-19 transmission,” she added.
She said health authorities were looking to improve how they communicate about COVID-19 outbreaks, saying, “We are working on these processes so we can continue to provide information to the public that is necessary for Iowans to protect themselves.”
In a Wednesday statement to Des Moines Register, Tyson Foods said it “has been working closely with local health officials and has conducted large-scale COVID-19 testing in Storm Lake.”
“We will disclose verified test results, once complete data is available, with health and government officials, team members and other stakeholders,” Liz Croston, a Tyson Foods spokeswoman, said in the statement.
“This is part of our efforts to help communities where we operate better understand COVID-19 and the protective measures that can be taken to help prevent its spread,” she added.
Tyson Foods has seen several COVID-19 outbreaks at its meat plants, including over 1,000 workers testing positive at a facility in Waterloo, Iowa.
Meat-processing workers are particularly susceptible to the CCP virus because they typically stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the line and congregate in crowded locker rooms and cafeterias.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released earlier in May, more than 4,900 workers at meat and poultry processing facilities have been diagnosed with the virus, including 20 who have died. Some states didn’t provide data, the agency said, so the actual count could be higher.
As of Thursday, the IDPH reported 18,542 total positive cases of COVID-19 and 503 deaths.