A surge of coronavirus cases is overtaking a pork-processing plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, with 186 employees reportedly testing positive for COVID-19. Situated in rural Iowa, the outbreak poses a threat both to the staffing and operations of the facility, as well as the livelihood of the surrounding community.
Reported in USA Today from the Des Moines Register, the plant, operated by Tyson Foods, has reportedly closed to prevent any further infections.
Preceding this closure was the shuttering of a Smithfield Food plant in South Dakota due to health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. Smithfield President and CEO Kenneth M. Sullivan said that these closures are “pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply.”
The Tyson Plant in Columbus Junction is reportedly responsible for 2 percent of the country’s total slaughtering capacity. The plant has been closed since April 6. Tyson Foods will attempt to divert livestock scheduled to be processed at the Columbus Junction facility to other plants that are still operable.
The company owns and operates a processing plant in nearby Waterloo, Iowa.
Prior to this outbreak, the food company was taking measures to protect employees from illness. In addition to conducting routine temperature checks, Tyson Foods relaxed its attendance policy to encourage employees to work from home if they are exhibiting symptoms.
Recent studies, however, have pointed to asymptomatic carriers as having also contributed to the coronavirus spread.
Other meat processing plants have temporarily shut down operations, prompting the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) to issue a statement to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) asking for the federal purchase of pork to reduce product backlog and prevent food waste.
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