The growing number of coronavirus outbreaks in the Midwest’s meat packing plants is getting worse.
Various governors in the region continue to ignore or downplay outbreaks, and many plants continue to operate despite employees testing positive for COVID-19, the highly contagious, unpredictable respiratory disease.
Starting Line found many meat packing plant employees deeply concerned about the lack of safety measures taken at plants. Multiple employees at the Tyson plant in Columbus Junction described extremely dirty bathrooms, lack of protective gear and a lack of social distancing implemented in their break room. Workers at other large plants spoke of similar conditions.
The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported that workers at Tyson Fresh Meats in Waterloo is allowing people with respiratory symptoms to continue working and the plant is potentially covering up the presence of the virus in its plants.
Someone who teaches English for some of the Tyson workers said employees from closed plants are also being moved to the Waterloo plant. The Courier also reported that workers are not being provided protective equipment at work.
Tyson Fresh Meats responded to worker accounts of employees being moved and the company not following safety precautions, and called them inaccurate on Thursday.
At a Black Hawk County press conference, the county sheriff sharply criticized the plant, saying he personally visited and saw a lack of social distancing and protective equipment.
Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the state is sending 1,500 tests to the county as they suspect there’s a significant outbreak at the plant.
A few days ago, National Beef closed its Tama operations at Iowa Premium after employees tested positive for the virus.
Last night, the Sioux City Journal reported one employee at Sioux City’s Seaboard Triumph Foods tested positive for COVID-19.
This follows Tyson Foods closing the Columbus Junction meatpacking plant last week after more than two dozen workers tested positive. The outbreak in Columbus Junction is the worst in the state.
In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the Smithfield pork plant is considered the biggest hotspot in the country. The plant is the city’s biggest employer and it closed on Sunday amid a surge of over 500 employees testing positive for COVID-19, comprising almost half of the state’s total cases.
Smithfield closed two other plants — one in Wisconsin and one in Missouri.
But cases continue to climb. South Dakota is now reporting 1,311 cases with 1,065 in Minnehaha County, where Sioux Falls and the Smithfield plant are.
South Dakota’s Gov. Kristi Noem rejected the Sioux Falls mayor’s request for a county-wide stay-at-home order yesterday, so Mayor Paul TenHaken and the city council issued a city-wide shelter-in-place ordinance instead.
Nebraska has also seen a severe spike in cases because of a meatpacking plant in Central Nebraska.
In Grand Island, the JBS USA beef plant is the city’s largest employer, and the site of a major outbreak of coronavirus.
The city’s hospital is full of COVID-19 patients, and the director of the Central District Health Department said some new cases will eventually need to be transferred to other hospitals.
On Wednesday, the Grand Island Independent reported Hall County had the highest reported number of cases in Nebraska.
Hall County — where Grand Island is located — has been second to Omaha’s Douglas County in number of cases. The peak in state infections, officials warned, is probably a month or two away. As of yesterday evening, Nebraska has reported 952 cases and 21 deaths.
All of these businesses have been deemed essential to nation’s food supply chain, so they’ve been allowed to continue operating.
by Nikoel Hytrek