Hundreds of cases of Iowans in the Sioux City area infected by COVID-19 are being reported today, nearly two weeks after Nebraska conducted the tests at the Dakota City Tyson beef processing plant.
Siouxland District Health reported 314 new positive cases of the coronavirus in Woodbury County, most of which were linked to the Tyson plant. That brought the total for the Western Iowa county to 1,988.
The local Iowa health department said in a statement today that it “discovered that there were a number of results from tests that had been conducted in Nebraska on residents of Woodbury County that had failed to be reported to the Iowa disease reporting system as required under Iowa’s mandatory reporting order.”
“Upon discovery,” the department went on to say, “SDHD staff reached out to the Nebraska Department of Public Health and they verified that this was the case. They then worked with Iowa to get these transferred and loaded in the Iowa system.”
At Gov. Kim Reynolds’ press conference today, the Iowa Department of Public Health couldn’t say why Nebraska had failed to report the cases for so long to Iowa officials. Sarah Reisetter, the department’s deputy director, said she believed those Iowans had been informed of their test results, but that Iowa simply hadn’t been made aware of them until today.
The delay has, however, put the Woodbury County health officials behind in their contact tracing efforts, which Iowa officials have repeatedly stressed are necessary to prevent further spread of the virus. The SDHD said they would now begin contacting those individuals “as soon as we can” to begin contact investigations.
Nebraska’s transparency during this global pandemic has come under increased scrutiny recently as Gov. Pete Ricketts announced last week that the state would no longer identify meatpacking plant outbreak locations. Ricketts has been adamant that plants must remain open no matter the number of workers sickened by COVID-19.
How Iowa’s neighbor state has handled the virus has had a major impact on the Sioux City community. While Woodbury County had relatively few coronavirus cases for many weeks into the pandemic, the outbreak at the Dakota City Tyson plant caused the county’s numbers to soar, making them the second-highest in the state as of today. The county’s per-capita numbers rival some of the worst-hit places in the United States, and the metro area led the nation in daily growth rate for weeks.
Gov. Reynolds has worked closest with Gov. Ricketts among nearby states. Nebraska quickly also adopted the Utah-based testing system that Iowa signed a contract with; the program’s testing machines have yet to be validated as of today.
Nebraska and Tyson resisted revealing the full extent of the outbreak in the Dakota City plant for weeks. Eventually, the Sioux City Journal discovered on April 30 that 669 workers had been infected, making it one of the worst outbreaks in the country.
Woodbury County announced another four local deaths today.
by Pat Rynard
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