Local/State Showdown Looming In Waterloo Over Tyson Plant

Strong condemnations for Tyson and Gov. Kim Reynolds came out of a coronavirus briefing in Black Hawk County this afternoon.

It culminated in multiple calls for Tyson to either voluntarily shut down its Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Waterloo or for the governor to step in and order it.

The Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Waterloo is the site of the most recent outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Iowa.

On Wednesday morning, Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart and Rep. Timi Brown-Powers sent a letter to Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Public Health demanding the immediate closure of the food plant.

“The governor contacted me on Wednesday afternoon and assured to me that the state was taking a proactive approach from increasing testing kits, quicker testing, potential mobile sites and increased work with the CDC and Tyson,” Hart said.

Still, he said, it isn’t enough.

“The letter that Supervisor [Chris] Schwartz read is a direct message stating that we want the safest environment possible at Tyson,” Hart said. “And the letter was a show of solidarity from local leaders in this county on our belief that the quickest way to slow this outbreak and its spread throughout the county is through temporary closure.”

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The letter was signed by 19 area officials, calling on Tyson “to take all steps necessary for immediate mitigation of the risks to our community and your employees from an outbreak of COVID-19 at your Waterloo operation.” It was sent to Tyson at 4:30 yesterday.

Today, Tyson indicated receipt of the letter.

Officials haven’t released the numbers of positive cases attributed to the plant.

Testimony from plant workers was read at the meeting. The people who provided those comments spoke about being afraid to go to work because they have conditions like asthma or diabetes. Others said they went to work sick or knew others who did. The workers also testified that Tyson wasn’t providing enough protective measures.

This lines up with comments Starting Line has heard.

“Sadly, contrary to the governor’s statements this morning, we’re not ahead of the outbreak,” said Rep. Ras Smith. “The opportunity to do the right thing was presented and that action was not taken. The lack of strong and consistent guidance from state leadership has increased the threat level to our community from COVID-19.”

Smith called on the governor to send additional Personal Protective Equipment for health care workers in Black Hawk County.

“And to, with us, throw in her support in calling for the voluntary cease of operations for our Tyson facility to allow for deep cleaning and testing of all employees in an effort to safely and as soon as possibly, return to normal operations,” he said.

Without the state government agreeing, there isn’t much for local officials to do on their own, Schwartz said.

“The legal opinion is that the shutdown has to happen pretty much from the state,” Schwartz said. “The county board of health could do something, but the state could override it, so the code is written so that they move in tandem. So we need the state to take this action.”

Other closures in the state, he said, have all been voluntary.

“So that’s why we’re pleading with Tyson because the governor has, quite frankly, not been willing to take this action yet,” Schwartz said. “We’re not going to let up on either Tyson or the governor on this.”


by Nikoel Hytrek
Posted 4/17/20

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