Live Blog: COVID-19 Disrupts Meatpacking Plants

Apr 17, 2020

Friday, April 17, 2020 Workers at a processing plant in Fremont, Nebraska, have fallen ill with symptoms of COVID-19. The company confirmed its first case of the disease earlier this week. LPP confirmed in a statement the employees are isolating at home with sick pay. “Once we learned these team members were demonstrating symptoms, we advocated for testing and also removed additional employees known to be in close contact with these individuals,” said Jessica Kolterman, Director of Corporate and External Affairs.

The company has implemented a mitigation plan over the past month: the plant began limiting visitors to the plant before its first case was confirmed and screens the temperature of anybody who enters the building. Social distancing is practiced throughout the plant where possible—like break rooms—and masks have been provided to employees. Lincoln Premium Poultry also gave workers a two dollar-per-hour raise starting in March. The plant is considering further mitigation tactics. Representatives from the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Fremont’s local health department will visit the plant Friday to provide feedback for the company.  "We have appreciated the proactive approach of Lincoln Premium Poultry and the interventions they implemented early on,” said Terra Uhing, Executive Director of Three Rivers Public Health Department. “We look forward to continued communication and to working with them on additional measures to protect essential workers who are critical to our food system.”—Christina Stella, NET

4:10 p.m. – County officials ask Iowa meatpacking facility to suspend operations. A group of 19 Black Hawk County elected officials have signed a letter asking the Tyson meatpacking facility in Waterloo, Iowa, to suspend operations due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. County supervisors chair Chris Schwartz read the letter in a press briefing Friday afternoon. “We ask that you voluntarily cease operations on a voluntary basis at your Waterloo facility so that appropriate cleaning and mitigation strategies can take place be in place for the resumption of production.” Earlier this afternoon, the Iowa Pork Producers issued a statement in support of keeping the plant open. It says in part: “The Tyson plant in Waterloo is critical to the work of many family pork producers. Closing it will create significant hardship for rural Northeast Iowa farmers, and that hardship will spread to farmers in other parts of the state and all the related businesses that keep them operational."

2:56 p.m. – Meat processing facilities employee concerns

As Iowa’s coronavirus case numbers continue to climb, more are showing up in the state’s meat processing plants. Many workers at the facilities are immigrants and refugees, and advocates say they don’t feel safe.

Cases have been spiking in Louisa and Black Hawk counties. Much of the spread is thought to be linked to local meat processing plants. While some companies have idled their facilities in the state, many haven’t.

Some workers and advocates tell Iowa Public Radio that employees in the facilities can’t practice social distancing, and aren’t notified when others test positive.

Advocates say language and cultural barriers make it even harder for immigrant workers to protect themselves.

—Iowa Public Radio

1:48 p.m. - State sends 2,700 COVID-19 test kits to Tyson plant in Waterloo, Iowa

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds says the state is sending another 2,700 kits to the Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo to test workers for COVID-19.

The virus has been spreading at the plant, leading some immigrant and refugee advocates to criticize the state’s response. Reynolds says her goal is to keep people safe and working.

“Testing is a critical component of that so we can start to understand what the scope of the exposure has been and through contact tracing how we can get in front of that and hopefully protect the employees and ultimately keep the plant up and going,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds says Iowa OSHA will investigate reports from workers who say conditions at the state’s meatpacking plants are unsafe.

—Iowa Public Radio

Thursday, April 16, 2020

6:17 p.m. — A worker at a Sioux City, South Dakota, pork plant has tested positive for COVID-19

Seaboard Triumph Foods in Sioux City announced Thursday that it was informed of the confirmed case and that the person has not come to work since they were tested. The plant employs more than 2,400 people.

In a statement, the company said it has measures in place to keep a clean and sterile environment, that follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those include taking temperatures of employees before they enter the plant and monitoring people for flu-like symptoms. Employees also wear face coverings while at work.

In Iowa, Tyson Foods has seen a spike in cases in workers at its processing plants in Columbus Junction and Waterloo.

—Iowa Public Radio

1:40 p.m. — Sheriff points to Tyson meatpacking plant in Waterloo, Iowa, for spike in positive COVID-19 cases

Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson says the number of cases went from 88 Wednesday to 150 Thursday. The state’s map of cases currently lists 109 for the county, though that’s current only through 10 a.m. yesterday. He is confident many of the new cases being reported are in the Tyson meatpacking plant in Waterloo.

Thompson says county officials visited the Tyson plant last Friday to monitor sanitation procedures. He says he believes it was quote “too little, too late.” There is no word on whether the Waterloo Tyson plant will shut down because it has been designated as an essential business.

Iowa Gov. Reynolds announced Thursday that the State Health Department is sending 1,500 test kits to the Waterloo Tyson plant.

—Iowa Public Radio