As the number of Iowa’s positive COVID-19 cases spiked over the weekend, Gov. Kim Reynolds said meatpacking plants in the state need to stay open for the sake of the food supply.
At her Monday press conference, Reynolds said, “These also are essential businesses and an essential workforce, and without them people’s lives and our food supply will be impacted. So, we must do our part to keep them open in a safe and responsible way.”
That includes expanding the ability to test the workforce and monitor the people that affected workers have come into contact with, also known as contact tracing.
Though testing supplies are still limited, the Iowa Department of Public Health’s “strike forces,” will provide additional staff to administer tests and perform contact tracing in areas where it’s needed.
According to Sarah Reisetter, the deputy director of the IDPH, the department has been providing support for more surveillance testing.
Managing the safety of essential businesses could also mean using the Iowa National Guard.
“Maj. Gen. [Ben] Corell today confirmed that the Iowa National Guard has been authorized to move soldiers and airmen serving full-time in state active duty to support Iowa’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts,” Reynolds said.
She said the National Guard could help move tests to and from facilities or assist with contact tracing or even disinfecting measures at meatpacking plants and long-term care facilities.
Part of the reason for insisting plants stay open is the potential impact on the country’s food supply. Reynolds pointed out that Iowa is the country’s biggest pork producer.
“Even if it’s at 50 percent capacity, it’s important,” she said. “Because this isn’t like a regular facility where you shut it down for two weeks.”
She said the plants are also important to the state’s hog farmers, who would otherwise have to euthanize their livestock if they couldn’t sell them to plants, which would have even more impact on the state’s economy.
“These processing plants are essential and these workers are essential workforce and so we have to be doing everything we can, collectively,” Reynolds said. “We should all be working on finding solutions to making sure that we are doing infectious control policies, that we’re making sure that the workforce is protected, and most importantly, that we’re keeping that food supply chain moving.”
by Nikoel Hytrek
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