Health officials in Black Hawk County, where the plant is located, said Thursday they have identified 1,031 workers at the facility who have either tested positive for the virus or for antibodies that show they were earlier infected, The Associated Press reported.
Joshua Pikora, disease surveillance and investigation manager in Black Hawk County, told the Register that the governor was referring to employees tested at the plant, not at other health facilities.
Tyson Foods reopened the Waterloo plant on May 5 after a two-week pause to test employees for COVID-19, following a surge of cases at the facility.
Before reopening, the plant was toured by numerous Black Hawk County health officials, including Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart, Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson, and UFCW Local 431 President Bob Waters.
“I had the chance to tour the Tyson plant in Waterloo and see the additional steps taken to keep the workers safe during these trying and unknown times,” Waters said in a statement.
Tyson Foods stated that all employees returning to work have been tested for the virus and that anyone who tests positive will remain on sick leave until cleared by health officials.
The company also announced that while the plant was idle, it was subject to deep cleaning and sanitization treatments. Returning employees would also find various new safety measures, Tyson Foods said, including expanded health screening, a supply of protective facial coverings, and “social distance monitors” to make sure employees stay 6 feet apart.
“Our top priority is the health and safety of our team members, their loved ones, and our communities,” said Tom Hart, plant manager of Tyson’s Waterloo facility.
After touring the plant, Waters said he supports reopening the facility, adding, “This pork plant and all of the measures they’ve put in place are an example of how to effectively set up a safe work environment for the employees.”
On Friday, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) reported 11,059 total positive cases of COVID-19 and 231 deaths. Among the fatality count, 46 percent were people over 80 years old, and 41 percent were those aged 61-80.
One out of 46 Iowans have been tested for the virus, with 41 percent of the positive cases in the 18-40 age bracket, and 37 percent in the 41-60 age range.
Meat-processing workers are particularly susceptible to the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, because they typically stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the line and congregate in crowded locker rooms and cafeterias.
On April 28, President Donald Trump signed an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act to ensure an abundant supply of protein for Americans as plant shutdowns have sparked concerns of shortages.
“Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency,” Trump wrote in the order, noting the large impact that key plant closures can have on the food supply chain.
“Closure of a single large beef processing facility can result in the loss of over 10 million individual servings of beef in a single day,” Trump noted. “Similarly, under established supply chains, closure of a single meat or poultry processing facility can severely disrupt the supply of protein to an entire grocery store chain.”
According to a CDC report released May 1, more than 4,900 workers at meat and poultry processing facilities have been diagnosed with the CCP virus, including 20 who have died.
The illnesses occurred among 130,000 workers at 115 facilities in 19 states, according to the CDC. Some states didn’t provide data, so the actual count could be higher.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.