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Iowa fines beef plant $957 after huge coronavirus outbreak

Iowa regulators have issued their first citation to a meatpacking plant with a large coronavirus outbreak that sickened its workforce.

Posted: Sep 24, 2020 4:00 PM

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa regulators have issued their first citation to a meatpacking plant with a large coronavirus outbreak that sickened its workforce — a $957 fine for a minor record-keeping violation.

The outbreak at the Iowa Premium Beef Plant in Tama in April resulted in 338 of the plant's 850 workers testing positive for the virus, 80 more than the state previously acknowledged, according to inspection records released Thursday.

The Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration said on June 1 that it had launched inspections at the Tama plant and four other meatpacking plants where thousands of workers had tested positive.

Records show that the inspections did not lead to any citations at the other four plants, where at least nine workers have died after contracting the COVID-19 virus. Those included Tyson Foods plants in Waterloo, Columbus Junction and Perry and the JBS plant in Marshalltown.

The agency cited Iowa Premium Beef in August for failing to keep a required log of workplace-related injuries and illnesses, and for failing to provide the document within four hours after inspectors requested it.

Both violations were labeled “other-than-serious," according to documents obtained by The Associated Press under the open records law.

On Sept. 2, Iowa OSHA administrator Russell Perry approved a settlement with the company that reduced the proposed penalties from $1,914 to a $957 fine. The company also agreed to correct the violations. It had already turned over the log the day after the inspection, although it was initially missing information about several workers' illnesses.

Democrats and labor activists have blasted the Iowa agency for a lax approach to worker safety during the pandemic. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has defended the state's approach, saying it has helped keep a critical industry operating while protecting workers.

The outbreak in Tama produced one of the first hot spots in the state.

The beef plant suspended production for two weeks in April after scores of workers became ill. A two-day mass testing conducted by the Iowa Department of Public Health found that 338 workers were infected by then, the records show.

The health department’s deputy director, Sarah Reisetter, nonetheless announced at a news conference May 5 that only 258 workers had tested positive. The department has blamed record-keeping problems for erroneously announcing artificially low numbers of positive tests at another meatpacking plant the same day.

Facing criticism for its response, Iowa OSHA decided to inspect the Tama plant May 21 based on news reports of the 6-week-old outbreak.

Inspectors found that four workers were still hospitalized with COVID-19 and saw some employees working close to one another on the floor with no barriers between them.

Inspectors noted that employees were wearing surgical-style masks that were issued by the company and required when the plant reopened April 20. The company had allowed workers to begin wearing their own face coverings April 2, four days before the plant shut down, records show.

The plant has taken steps to prevent the virus' spread by installing plastic barriers where possible, staggering breaks, adding seating, providing hand sanitizer and checking temperatures before entry.

The plant was purchased last year by National Beef, which is based in Kansas City and supplies grocery stores and restaurants with meat products.

CEO Tim Klein praised his company in an open letter published Wednesday for “rapidly adjusting our processes and protocols to improve safety" during the pandemic.

“Our industry was in the local and national news for the wrong reasons during a time when we were all learning how to combat COVID-19 and keep our people safe,” he wrote. “And yet our employees continued to deliver — safe, quality beef products, ideas for improved safety, and time and talents to help their families and communities thrive in challenging situations.”

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 133802

Reported Deaths: 2402
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin34033991
Ramsey14073360
Dakota9823138
Anoka8661150
Washington593272
Stearns582543
Scott338234
Olmsted325230
St. Louis296569
Wright248314
Clay229743
Nobles226816
Blue Earth20437
Carver17897
Sherburne168522
Kandiyohi16705
Rice163310
Mower151717
Winona125019
Crow Wing101022
Chisago10022
Lyon9656
Benton9409
Waseca9289
Beltrami8917
Otter Tail8627
Todd8055
Steele7593
Nicollet73017
Itasca72717
Morrison7269
Douglas6963
Freeborn6694
Polk6434
Le Sueur6235
Martin61317
McLeod5974
Goodhue58511
Watonwan5784
Becker5614
Pine5430
Isanti5415
Chippewa4353
Carlton4341
Mille Lacs40615
Dodge3940
Hubbard3902
Wabasha3780
Cass3705
Pipestone35017
Rock3284
Meeker3263
Brown3213
Unassigned29053
Yellow Medicine2836
Cottonwood2800
Murray2783
Redwood27511
Roseau2640
Fillmore2600
Renville25211
Sibley2523
Faribault2310
Wadena2313
Jackson2101
Kanabec20910
Houston2041
Swift2011
Pennington1911
Lincoln1820
Stevens1821
Aitkin1792
Koochiching1694
Pope1560
Big Stone1380
Wilkin1344
Lac qui Parle1333
Marshall1211
Lake1190
Norman1150
Mahnomen1132
Clearwater1110
Grant984
Red Lake782
Traverse560
Lake of the Woods441
Kittson400
Cook160

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 115574

Reported Deaths: 1621
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk18874288
Woodbury718394
Johnson584430
Black Hawk557498
Linn5513129
Dubuque518657
Scott454138
Story398918
Dallas344344
Pottawattamie323544
Sioux242516
Buena Vista225512
Marshall201436
Webster183015
Plymouth165727
Wapello152562
Clinton148326
Muscatine144258
Des Moines138610
Cerro Gordo136225
Crawford135514
Warren12477
Carroll114512
Jasper109634
Henry10545
Marion100710
Lee95410
Tama94437
Delaware77812
Dickinson7347
Wright7191
Boone7179
Mahaska68724
Bremer6719
Harrison65311
Washington65311
Jackson6283
Benton5812
Lyon5497
Clay5284
Louisa52115
Winnebago48719
Hardin4757
Winneshiek4749
Hamilton4684
Kossuth4660
Cedar4605
Poweshiek45611
Buchanan4514
Jones4444
Floyd43311
Emmet42917
Clayton4193
Iowa4059
Cherokee4022
Page3990
Mills3971
Sac3974
Guthrie39115
Cass3883
Franklin38018
Butler3782
Fayette3744
Shelby3721
Allamakee3638
Madison3603
Chickasaw3561
Clarke3493
Humboldt3233
Hancock3164
Palo Alto3102
Calhoun3074
Grundy3075
Osceola2791
Mitchell2750
Howard2699
Monroe25911
Monona2441
Jefferson2381
Taylor2362
Union2324
Appanoose2253
Pocahontas2232
Fremont2021
Lucas2016
Ida1922
Greene1860
Davis1764
Van Buren1742
Montgomery1737
Adair1611
Keokuk1601
Decatur1500
Worth1440
Audubon1421
Wayne1203
Ringgold882
Adams810
Unassigned260
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