Tyson Foods temporarily closed its pork processing plant in Storm Lake, Iowa Thursday after the state's Department of Public Health confirmed more than one-fifth of its employees tested positive for the coronavirus. The company previously closed other plants in Iowa, as well as plants in Nebraska, Indiana and Washington state due to outbreaks and adding new worker safeguards. Just last week, a plant in Wilkes County, North Carolina was closed after almost 600 workers tested positive there.
Tyson said the Storm Lake plant was closed partly due to a "delay in COVID-19 testing results" and several employee absences "related to quarantine," reports the Des Moines Register. The plant ceased slaughter operations and will finish processing through the end of the week. There will be more "deep cleaning and sanitizing" of the facility before it reopens later next week. Tyson said all employees and contractors at the plant have been tested for COVID-19 and will share the results after data is complete "with health and government officials, team members and other stakeholders as part of our efforts to help communities where we operate better understand the coronavirus and the protective measures that can be taken to help prevent its spread."
During Thursday's press conference, Iowa Department of Public Health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter confirmed 555 of the 2,517 employees at the Storm Lake facility tested positive for the coronavirus. That is over the 10 percent threshold set for businesses to report outbreaks to the state's health department. However, businesses are not required to do so. Reisetter also said earlier this week the state will only release outbreak data from businesses if the media asks.
"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," Reisetter explained Thursday. She said the state will only confirm outbreaks when it is "necessary" for public health. "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.
On May 20, Tyson Foods temporarily shut down a chicken plant in Wilkes County, North Carolina after 570 of the plant's 2,244 employees tested positive, reports WBTV. Most of the employees did not show symptoms. About 2,000 of the employees were tested at the facility between May 6 and May 9. "We are using the most up-to-date data and resources to support our team members, and we are committed to ensuring they feel safe and secure when they come to work," Tom Brower, Senior Vice President of Health and Safety for Tyson Foods, said last week.