Iowa meat plants will stay open despite virus risks, Reynolds says

The Tyson Foods processing plant in Waterloo on Thursday, April 16, 2020. (Brian Tabick/KCRG)
The Tyson Foods processing plant in Waterloo on Thursday, April 16, 2020. (Brian Tabick/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: Apr. 20, 2020 at 2:15 PM CDT
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Gov. Kim Reynolds said Monday that Iowa's meatpacking plants will stay open and continue to spread the coronavirus among workers, warning that shutting them down would be devastating for farmers and the food supply.

Reynolds acknowledged at a news conference that the virus spreads quickly and easily at the plants because so many workers are in close proximity. She said that "we will continue to see clusters of positive cases" in them.

Reynolds said closing them wasn't an option, calling the state's most important objective "keeping that food supply chain moving." Otherwise, she warned that farmers would have to euthanize animals scheduled to be sold to plants and the price of food would skyrocket.

Reynolds said even operating the plants at 50% capacity is a more realistic option than closing them entirely.

But the director of the health department in Black Hawk County, where officials report an outbreak at the Waterloo Tyson Foods Fresh Meats facility is connected to at least 150 cases of the coronavirus, said that might not be possible.

“What we’ve heard is that there actually, there hasn’t been a good amount of employees to even run the plant," Nafissa Cisse-Egbuonye said.

Cisse-Egbuonye said more than 90% of Black Hawk County's 356 cases, as of Monday, were reported after the outbreak at the Tyson plant was identified, and because of a backlog in the public health investigative process, they believe more cases are connected to the plant than they currently know of.

Meanwhile, MercyOne – Covenant said Monday that it’s starting to see a surge in hospitalizations and infections.

“At this time, we seem to be well-situated for where the surge is at, but it matters how high that surge goes, and if I had a crystal ball, I could give you a better answer," Dr. Matthew Sojka, the hospital's chief medical officer, said.