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Over half of workforce at Tyson plant in Iowa tests positive for coronavirus

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More than half of the workforce at a Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Perry, Iowa, has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported on Tuesday that a total of 730 workers at the plant had contracted the virus, representing 58 percent of its staff, according to local news reports. The department also noted that more than 1,600 workers at four meatpacking plants across the state had suffered infections. 

The figures included test results from three separate Tyson meat plants. Outside of Perry, 444 employees at a plant in Waterloo reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. Roughly 220 workers at a Columbus Junction plant, or 26 percent of its staff, tested positive for the virus. 

Meatpacking plants have emerged as major hot spots for coronavirus outbreaks in the U.S., prompting growing concerns about worker safety and the possibility of food shortages. Nearly 900 workers at one Tyson plant in Indiana reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 last month. A Smithfield Foods plant in South Dakota shut down operations for more than two weeks after more than 800 people tested positive for the virus. 

Tyson Foods said in a statement on Monday that it expects to continue to “face slowdowns and temporary idling of production facilities” amid the pandemic. 

The company last month temporarily closed its plant in Perry after seeing a surge in reported COVID-19 cases, The Des Moines Register reported. The plant underwent a “deep cleaning” before reopening earlier this week, Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson told the newspaper. 

“The health and safety of our team members is our top priority, and we take this responsibility extremely seriously,” Mickelson said. “We are conducting testing of team members and will not hesitate to idle any plant for additional deep cleaning and sanitization.”

Mickelson added that every worker returning to its facilities will be tested. Employees who have contracted the virus will be required to remain on sick leave until health officials say they are safe to return to work, he said. 

Tyson’s plant in Waterloo remains closed. The plant in Columbus Junction reopened under “limited operations” in April. 

President Trump has pushed for keeping processors of beef, pork and poultry open despite concerns about the health conditions in the facilities. He signed an executive order last week designating them as critical infrastructure and compelling them to stay open. 

“Given the high volume of meat and poultry processed by many facilities, any unnecessary closures can quickly have a large effect on the food supply chain,” Trump wrote in the order.

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