Iowa officials reported earlier this week that 186 Tyson Foods employees at the pork processing plant in Columbus Junction have tested positive for the coronavirus. The plant has been closed since April 6 and is one of the largest of its kind in the country, as well as a major employer for the small town. On Wednesday, Tyson Foods confirmed two employees at the plant have died due to complications of COVID-19.
On Tuesday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said 86 more employees from the plant tested positive, bringing the total up to 186. She said 200 testing swabs were sent to the plant and a quick-test machine is on its way. "Understand who was positive, who was negative, which was part of the scenario in opening the plant back up," Reynolds explained, reports the Des Moines Register. "The plant is also putting in a lot of measures to protect the employees."
Columbus Junction Mayor Mark Huston feared an extended shutdown would have a major impact on the community's economy, even outside his town with a population under 2,000 people. "Let’s say there was an employer (in Des Moines) that employed 200,000 people — one employer and then they shut down," he told the Register. "What do you think that would do to Des Moines and the surrounding area?"
On Wednesday, Tyson told WHO-TV two of its Columbus Junction employees have died. Their names were not released. "We’re deeply saddened by the loss of two team members at our Columbus Junction plant. Their families are in our thoughts and prayers," the company said. It later added, "We continue working diligently to protect our team members at facilities across the country by taking worker temperatures, requiring protective face coverings and conducting additional cleaning and sanitizing. We're implementing social distancing measures, such as installing workstation dividers, spreading out work stations where possible, and providing more breakroom space."
Tyson and other companies are seeing an increase in coronavirus cases as their employees continue to work. Officials in Black County, Iowa have demanded Tyson close down the plant in Waterloo as employees complained to The Courier they were getting sick. The number of coronavirus cases also jumped in the county, and officials put the blame on the plants. Tyson responded in a letter, published by KWWL, in which it said they "have been successfully collaborating with leaders in other plant communities in addressing COVID-19 concerns."
Tyson also confirmed four employees at a plant in southwest Georgia have died, reports the Associated Press. Officials in Walla Walla County, Washington are calling on Tyson to make improvements at the Tyson Fresh Meats plant after the number of coronavirus cases reached 81 on Saturday, reports the Tri-City Herald.
"We realize everyone is anxious during this challenging time and believe information is the best tool for combating the virus," Hector Gonzalez, Tyson’s senior vice president for human resources, said in a statement to the Associated Press. "That's why we’re encouraging our team members to share their concerns with us, so we can help address them."
On Saturday, the number of coronavirus cases nationally reached 726,645, reports Johns Hopkins University. Over 37,900 deaths have been reported, including over 13,000 in New York City. More than 3.6 million Americans have been tested for the coronavirus.