The Iowa Department of Health (IDPH) has revealed that a Tyson food processing plant in Storm Lake is the latest facility owned by the company to have a significant COVID-19 outbreak. So far, 555 workers out of the plant’s 2,517 employees have tested positive for the virus.
Sara Reisetter, an official from IDPH mentioned that businesses are not required to report COVID-19 outbreaks to the agency. The IDPH is only finding out about these outbreaks when companies voluntarily disclose the information.
“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,” she said. “Businesses are not currently required to report outbreaks to the department of public health.”
Does the IDPH Need to be More Involved?
Reisetter went on to say that confirming outbreaks at workplaces is only necessary “when the employment setting constitutes a high-risk of environment for the potential of COVID-19.” Across the nation, meatpacking plants have been at the center of some of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus. Thousands of workers from plants owned by Tyson, JBS, Cargill, Smithfield, and other companies have tested positive for COVID-19. Many of the plants have had to close, sanitize, and reopen only to have additional outbreaks.
IDPH has received criticism for its handling of COVID-19 cases at meatpacking plants in the state. A report from CNN discovered that the company took a week to act on a report from a concerned employee from the Perry, Iowa Tyson plant. The agency only spoke with Tyson, telling the company to make sure it was operating safely. Tyson closed the plant on April 20, opened it again on April 22, and suspended operations once again on April 24. On May 3, the IDPH revealed that the over 700-employees at the plant tested positive for COVID-19.
In her comments. Reisetter claimed that Iowans should focus on their health over worrying about meatpacking facility outbreaks. She said that “the most important thing for Iowans to know is how to take care of yourself.” Residents around Amarillo would argue that knowing about meatpacking plant outbreaks is part of taking care of themselves—hundreds of coronavirus cases of non-meatpacking workers have been tied to their local plants.