COVID-19 outbreak at Waterloo Tyson Foods plant, Black Hawk County officials urge closure of the facility

Iowa News

DES MOINES and WATERLOO, Iowa (AP/KCRG) – Several factories and food processing plants across the country are seeing outbreaks of the coronavirus and while many have taken extensive precautions or shut down.

Officials said workers at a meat processing plant in eastern Iowa are coming to work sick and the facility is still operating.

The Waterloo Tyson plant is still operating as normal despite a recent report from the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier stating that workers are coming in sick.

“Our increase in numbers is due to an outbreak in Tyson Foods Waterloo,” said Dr. Nafissa Cisse-Egbuonye, Black Hawk County Public Health Director.

Dr. Cisse-Egbuonye said the company reached out asking for advice on how to social distance employees.

The Black Hawk County Public Health Department visited the Waterloo Tyson Foods plant.

“We have witnessed the difficulty of social distancing and Tyson. It’s a problem that I truly believe is very difficult for food production facilities. So as I emphasized earlier, we are working diligently with state and Tyson to efficiently address the needs of the Tyson employees,” said Dr. Cisse-Egbuonye.

Elected officials in the county discussed the plant at a meeting Friday asking management to temporarily close.

A Tyson Fresh Meats plant stands in Waterloo, Iowa, date not known. On Friday, April 17, 2020, more than a dozen Iowa elected officials asked Tyson to close the pork processing plant because of the spread of the coronavirus among its workforce of nearly 3,000 people. (Jeff Reinitz/The Courier via AP)

Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson said he doesn’t want to point fingers at the meat packing plant but also mentions that businesses that are working under these conditions can be doing a better job.

“[Thursday,] Black Hawk County is fighting an overwhelming battle against ever increasing numbers due to an apathetic approach by a small few,” said Sheriff Thompson.

Dr. Cisse-Egbuoyne said the plant is ordering employees to wear masks while working and have put dividers between the workers to try and help slow the spread.

She said this is the first manufacturing facility they have gone in to with this issue, but it won’t be the last.

“We’re working through that process to go and visit other plants like that,” said Dr. Cisse-Egbuonye.

Officials said they have spoken to the County Attorney about legal actions in regards to the spread and closing businesses and were told it has to come from the state.

A Tyson Fresh Meats plant stands in Waterloo, Iowa, date not known. On Friday, April 17, 2020, more than a dozen Iowa elected officials asked Tyson to close the pork processing plant because of the spread of the coronavirus among its workforce of nearly 3,000 people. (Jeff Reinitz/The Courier via AP)

More than a dozen Iowa elected officials implored Tyson Fresh Meats to close their Waterloo pork processing plant, saying the coronavirus is spreading among workers and is endangering not only employees of the plant but the entire community.

Mayors, county officials and state legislators signed the letter that was sent to Tyson on Thursday.

The 19 officials said at a Friday news conference they had only received confirmation from the company that it had received the letter but no other action.

The officials also accused Gov. Kim Reynolds of misleading Iowans on the seriousness of the outbreak and for failure to take action to close the plant.

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