Ahead of Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Des Moines today, Iowa Democrats used the opportunity to point out the ways they believe the Trump Administration and Gov. Kim Reynolds have failed to protect frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
As they were speaking, Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs reported that Pence’s flight to Iowa was delayed an hour because a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
NEWS: Pence flight to Iowa delayed an hour after a staffer tested positive for coronavirus, I’m told. Some aides disembarked AF2. Wheels up now for Iowa.
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) May 8, 2020
Pence initially was scheduled to arrive late Friday morning in Des Moines where he first will meet with faith leaders about reopening worship spaces and then with leaders in agriculture and food supply.
Pence’s visit comes on the heels of news out of Black Hawk County Thursday evening that 1,031 of the county’s positive COVID-19 cases are Tyson employees, compared to the 444 cases the Iowa Department of Public Health tied Wednesday to the Waterloo plant. The pork processing plant, Tyson’s largest in the nation, resumed limited operations on Thursday.
“It was in the governor’s benefit to report 444 the day before Tyson would reopen,” Waterloo Rep. Ras Smith said. “That gives a sense of false hope to workers.”
Rep. Smith said Reynolds did not wait until data from Waterloo’s multiple test sites was available before making the 444 infections public during her press conference, therefore under-representing the true scope of the outbreak.
In addition to the “sense of false hope” underreporting gives workers, Smith said, it also undermines local public health officials and social distancing efforts.
“It makes it really, really difficult to do contract tracing or to ensure that individuals abide by social distancing in our communities because they believe that the risk is less than it really is,” Smith said. “This yo-yoing of, ‘It’s not so bad, oh it’s really bad,’ makes it difficult for us as leaders in our community to give people information that’s consistent with what our government is giving.”
Charlie Wishman, president of Iowa AFL-CIO, emphasized union leaders do not want to see meatpacking plants or essential industries of any kind indefinitely shut down during the pandemic, but if they are going to open, there must be enforceable and strict safety standards in place before workers return.
“We’re not calling for shutdowns of places, we’re not calling for anything but safe workplaces,” Wishman said. “This can be done so easily and needs to be done right now, but it’s not. It’s time for leadership of the governor, it’s time for leadership from our president and vice president.”
Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst also will join Pence today in Des Moines.
Iowa Democratic Party chairman Mark Smith used a portion of the press conference to say Ernst has “disregarded the severity of the crisis” and to promote a new video produced by IDP showing Ernst accuse Democrats of trying to “stir up panic” about the coronavirus and downplaying how hard Iowa has been hit.
“Even as the health and economic toll of COVID-19 is only getting worse, Sen. Ernst has simply said that Iowa ‘has fared pretty well,'” Smith said, accusing Iowa’s GOP leaders of “ignoring data and expert warning that could save lives across our state.”
By Elizabeth Meyer
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