COVID Cases Grow In Iowa Factories Outside Of Packing Plants

While cases at meat packing plants and long-term care facilities make up the majority of cases in Iowa, clusters of positive cases at Iowa manufacturing centers across the state continue to pop up.

These locations haven’t seen nearly the same surge or spread, with most only reporting one or two cases at a time. But given that many of them feature the same kind of close-quarters workspace that have allowed the virus to spread quickly in meat packing facilities, it could be a sign of what’s to come.

Yesterday, TPI Composites in Newton announced a temporary shutdown after 28 new cases were confirmed among employeees. The shutdown will be for the company to deep-clean the facility and will last until the middle of next week.

Employees will be paid during the pause and the plant manager said today that the company asked Gov. Kim Ryenolds about doing more testing at the plant for its workforce of over 1,000.

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Two weeks ago, TPI reported only two positive COVID-19 cases among its workforce. Starting Line previously interviewed an employee who voiced fears about the virus’s ability to spread among the workforce.

Some have been able to transition to working from home, but the majority of employees still had to come to the plant. There, the plant manager said workers were temperature-screened and sent home for high fevers, and employees were encouraged and generally able to social distance. If unable, they wore PPE.

Tuesday, Whirlpool Corporation announced it was temporarily closing a facility in Amana after employees tested positive. On March 24, it closed for a few days after one worker tested positive. This time, the company gave no timeline for reopening, nor did it disclose how many employees tested positive.

It did say the facility will be cleaned during the shutdown.

On Monday, two employees at the Purina factory in Davenport tested positive for COVID-19.

Casey Hansen, the factory manager, said in a statement that the factory will sanitize high-touch surfaces in the area the employees worked, like break rooms, common areas and places of high traffic. This is normal protocol when anyone calls in sick.

“This includes thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting the facility using third-party providers,” she wrote. “These efforts are in addition to the increased cleaning and sanitation measures that were already underway on a daily basis and during each change over. Ensuring the health and safety of our associates remains our top priority.”

No cases have been reported at the factory in Clinton.

In Muscatine, the Kraft-Heinz plant found a positive case of COVID-19 last Friday. That person is self-quarantining and hasn’t been to work since Friday, said Michael Mullins, the senior vice president of corporate affairs.

Contact tracing was conducted and other employees at the plant have been notified. Yesterday, all Kraft-Heinz plants started doing temperature checks before workers’ shifts start.

The company says it has been introducing safety measures in line with CDC recommendations, like disinfecting and sanitizing every four hours, redesigning breakrooms to allow social distancing and staggering breaks.

Kraft-Heinz is also encouraging employees to wear masks.

“We will soon be supplying all of our U.S. manufacturing facilities with cloth face coverings, with the first shipment scheduled to arrive in the next few days,” Mullins said. “The company is also looking into disposable masks for employees to use, if they wish.”


by Nikoel Hytrek
Posted 4/24/20

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