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State potentially delayed outbreak announcement at beef factory

Published: Jul. 24, 2020 at 6:23 AM CDT
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TAMA COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG) - The state of Iowa potentially delayed an announcement about a COVID-19 outbreak occurring at the Iowa Premium Beef plant in Tama County, according to records I9 received through a public records request.

Emails between the Iowa Department of Public Health and local health officials said Governor Kim Reynolds was going to announce the plant as an outbreak center on April 16th. Instead, it was announced as an outbreak location days later on April 20th.

Pat Garrett, who is the spokesperson for the Governor’s office, said the variance in dates had to be a mistake because employees at the plant began receiving tests for COVID-19 on April 16th and April 17th. The state declares an outbreak at a facility once 10 percent of its employees are infected with COVID-19.

However, about one week before those employees were tested, they all received a letter about “an ongoing outbreak at their place of employment.”

The letter, which I9 received through a public records request, was addressed to health care providers from State Epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati. The letter asked healthcare providers to test people for COVID-19 if they had a fever or any other respiratory symptoms.

Garrett said the governor referenced the beef plant as a potential outbreak in response to a question a reporter asked her, during a press conference, around the same time period.

Shannon Zoofka, who is the CEO and executive director of Public Health in Tama County, said a delay occurred, but she said she doesn’t remember if a reason was given because her agency was tracking cases in their county.

“We just kind of waited for it to be announced,” she said.

At least 177 out of the plant’s more than 500 workers tested positive for COVID-19. The beef plant became one of the first outbreak centers in the state.

Garrett said the availability of tests and the process of naming employers as outbreak locations improved as the pandemic continued.

It adds more questions to the state’s use of public information during the pandemic. The AP reported on Wednesday that the state misled the public about an outbreak at a Tyson pork plant. The state reported about 200 COVID-19 cases, but the AP found records showing the company said more than twice as many workers tested positive days before.

A long-time spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Public Health, Polly Carver-Kimm, said she believes she was ousted on Wednesday for sharing coronavirus information with the media too aggressively.

Copyright 2020 KCRG. All rights reserved.

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