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Tyson to idle Storm Lake plant after COVID-19 outbreak infecting more than 500 reported

Tyson halts production at Storm Lake pork plant (Siouxland News Photo){ }
Tyson halts production at Storm Lake pork plant (Siouxland News Photo)
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Tyson Foods in Storm Lake is temporarily halting product at its plant, a spokeswoman confirmed Friday. This comes after the state reported an outbreak of COVID-19 at the facility, infecting 22% of the workforce.

State officials confirmed the outbreak during a Thursday news conference, saying 555 of 2,517 employees at the plant tested positive for COVID-19. Officials have said they won't confirm outbreaks, which the state defines as 10% of the workforce ill, in businesses unless asked and said Thursday that businesses are not required to report widespread absenteeism or COVID-19 illness to the state.

Liz Croston, a spokeswoman for Tyson, said in a statement that the company is voluntarily idling production at its storm lake pork plant temporarily.

"This is due in part to a delay in COVID-19 testing results and team member absences related to quarantine and other factors," Croston said. "We will idle harvesting animals and finish processing over the next two days. Additional deep cleaning and sanitizing of the entire facility will be conducted before resuming operations later next week."

This is the eighth confirmed outbreak at a facility like a meatpacking plant, where state officials have said social distancing is "impractical or impossible"—which is why they say they pledge to name businesses like meat processing plants and manufacturing facilities when widespread COVID-19 infection has occurred. On Wednesday, though, they said the will release such information only when asked by journalists.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, an advocacy group, said Tyson should halt production at its other Storm Lake facility, too. Tyson also operates a Hillshire Farms plant in the town.

“There are 700 more workers at Tyson's turkey packing plant right across the street from the pork plant, and it’s a good bet there’s already an outbreak there as well,” said Adam Mason, Iowa CCI’s statewide policy and organizing director.

When operations resume at the Tyson pork plant in Storm Lake, employees will continue to have access to additional testing and daily clinical symptom screenings, Croston said.

She listed in an email all of the safety measures the plant is implementing, providing surgical-style face masks to every worker and requiring they are worn, installing "widespread' hand sanitizer, and requiring face shields in arrears where there are neither barriers nor an opportunity to social distance, among other protocols.

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Buena Vista County, home to Storm Lake, had 710 confirmed infections as of this writing. It has the highest infection rate per 100,000 people of any county in the state.

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