Tyson Foods, Inc. closed an Iowa pork plant for deep cleaning after 22% of its workforce tested positive for coronavirus. Plant officials announced the closure last Thursday, with plans to reopen by the end of this week.
Many meat processors around the country have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks, as the industry is notoriously unable to social distance. Tyson reported that it required employees to wear masks and that the northwestern Iowa plant had an extensive coronavirus testing protocol. Unfortunately, delayed test results probably added to the spread, which has resulted in 555 positive tests out of 2,517 employees.
“I honestly feel like the company has failed its employees,” Mayra Lopez, vice president of the Storm Lake League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, told the Des Moines Register. “With 555 cases confirmed, that seems pretty steep.” She said friends and family who work there told her that it took up to a week to get test results. “By the time they get the results, it could be too late and they’ve passed it on to someone else,” she said.
In late April, the Trump administration released an executive order to keep meatpacking plants open despite the virus. “It is important that processors of beef, pork, and poultry (“meat and poultry”) in the food supply chain continue operating and fulfilling orders to ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans,” the order decreed.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Tyson Foods has temporarily closed plants in Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana and Washington State. Most have since reopened. Forty-four meatpacking workers have died so far of COVID-19, with more than 3,000 testing positive. United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) has criticized the Trump administration, saying it should do more to protect workers.
Before the pandemic, the plant at Storm Lake killed approximately 17,250 pigs daily, accounting for about 3.5% of U.S. pork production.
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