Over 700 positive cases have been confirmed at the Perry Tyson plant based on information released by the Iowa Department of Public Health during the governor’s press conference on Tuesday, May 5.
Gov. Kim Reynolds said IDPH has been working closely with manufacturing facilities across the state to conduct testing of employees.
IDPH Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter added during the press conference that the department determined that it was “necessary to protect the public health to release the name of an employer when there has been an outbreak” at workplaces where there is a high risk for COVID-19 transmission. That includes meat packing plants, food and beverage processing plants, factories with production lines and warehouses.
An outbreak, she said, is defined as 10 percent absenteeism or 10 percent of the workforce having confirmed cases.
Reisetter said an outbreak was confirmed at the Perry Tyson plant, where 730 positive cases were identified. That number reflects 58 percent of employees tested.
Other outbreaks were reported at the Tyson plants in Columbus Junction and Waterloo, Iowa Premium National Beef in Tama and TPI Composites in Newton.
“The health and safety of our team members is our top priority, and we take this responsibility extremely seriously,” a statement from Tyson Foods said. “We are conducting testing of team members and will not hesitate to idle any plant for additional deep cleaning and sanitization. All team members returning to work at our facilities have been tested and any employee who has tested positive will remain on sick leave until they are released by health officials to return to work.”
Liz Croston, a spokesperson for Tyson, said mass testing of Perry team members was completed on Saturday, April 25. The Perry plant also completed additional deep cleaning and sanitizing while production was paused last week.
Croston said the company has implemented additional safety measures across its facilities. Those include taking worker temperatures and installing additional infrared walkthrough temperature scanners, conducting wellness checks and screening workers for symptoms, providing and requiring facial coverings for team members, adding additional social distancing measures with workforce dividers, more breakroom space and staggering start times.
The company relaxed its attendance policy to encourage workers to stay home when they’re sick. Team members are also educated on the risk factors so they stay safe at work and at home.
Perry City Administrator Sven Peterson said he, along with Mayor John Andorf, has been in almost daily contact with Mike Grothe, the Perry Tyson plant manager.
“He’s been excellent in just letting us know what is going on with their operations and what they’re doing to protect their employees. That’s been very encouraging,” Peterson said of Grothe.
Peterson, Andorf and Mike Fastenau, Director of Community and Economic Development, toured the Perry Tyson plant with Grothe two weeks ago to see what safety measures had been implemented to protect its workforce.
Peterson and city officials have also been in contact with Dallas County Public Health and Dallas County Emergency Management.
While the 730 confirmed COVID-19 cases at the Perry Tyson plant is a significant number, Peterson said it doesn’t accurately reflect where the community is at in terms of the virus. He added that the positive case numbers released by the state today are now 10 days old. Those numbers also don’t show exactly where the positive cases are, as there are some employees who work at the Tyson plant and live in Perry while other employees work at the Perry Tyson Plant and live outside of the community and Dallas County.
“What we’ve been working on and continue to work for is to get a more accurate and a smaller scale of information,” Peterson said. “What I’m pushing for is zip code level data so that we would be able to actually get a true picture of what our community spread is.”
The zip code data would show COVID-19 activity in the immediate area. Peterson added that is important for communities to know what is going on around them.
“Perry probably has more cases than other communities in the county, but every community should act with that same understanding that there is probably a great number of cases within their community and they need to behave like that,” Peterson said.
That includes following guidelines from IDPH and the CDC in regards to sanitation, washing hands, wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing and more.
Peterson added that it’s important for everyone to continue working together, from individuals to businesses and agencies, to help flatten out the curve.