Tyson Foods idling its largest pork plant amid Iowa outbreak

The plant employs nearly 3,000 workers and can process about 19,500 hogs per day, about 4% of the U.S. pork processing capacity.

Posted: Apr 22, 2020 8:55 AM
Updated: Apr 22, 2020 3:01 PM

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Tyson Foods suspended operations Wednesday at an Iowa plant that is critical to the nation's pork supply but was blamed for fueling a coronavirus outbreak in the community.

The Arkansas-based company said the closure of the plant in Waterloo would deny a vital market to hog farmers and further disrupt U.S. meat supply. Tyson had kept the facility, its largest pork plant, open in recent days over the objections of alarmed local officials.

The plant can process 19,500 hogs per day, accounting for 3.9% of U.S. pork processing capacity, according to the National Pork Board.

More than 180 infections have been linked to the plant and officials expect that number to dramatically rise. Testing of its 2,800 workers is expected to begin Friday. Cases and hospitalizations in Black Hawk County have skyrocketed in recent days and local officials say the plant is the largest source of infections.

In addition to those who have tested positive for the virus, hundreds of workers were staying home out of fear, and the plant had been running at reduced production levels.

Employers have struggled to contain the virus in meatpacking plants, where workers toil side by side on production lines and often share crowded locker rooms, cafeterias and rides to work. While plants have added safety measures, public health experts say social distancing is virtually impossible.

Several facilities have temporarily closed due to virus outbreaks, including a Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and a JBS USA plant in Worthington, Minnesota. Others have stayed open or resumed production after pauses for worker testing and cleaning.

Tyson Fresh Meats president Steve Stouffer said the closure in Iowa was driven by “the combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns.” He warned of “significant ramifications" for the farmers, distributors and grocers in the supply chain.

Tyson said workers would be compensated during the shutdown and that the timing of reopening would depend on several factors, including testing.

The Black Hawk County Board of Health requested Tuesday that Tyson or Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds temporarily close the plant. The board warned that its continued operation would exacerbate the spread of the virus in the county.

A 65-year-old employee in the plant's laundry department died Sunday after contracting the virus, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported.

Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart and local officials had called for a shutdown, saying Tyson was putting its workforce in danger. Iowa’s worker safety agency said Tuesday that was investigating the plant.

The governor blocked local authorities from closing the plant in an April 16 order that banned social gatherings in northeastern Iowa. It granted the exclusive power to the Iowa Department of Public Health to shut down businesses over coronavirus concerns.

The governor and the department had been working with Tyson to keep the plant open.

Reynolds argued that the economic disruption caused by plant closures outweighed the health risks, warning that farmers would potentially have to euthanize their pigs. She said that “people are gonna get" the virus in large workplaces but most will experience mild or no symptoms.

Lawmakers said an earlier closure would have better protected public health and been less harmful economically. “My concern is the impact this has had because we didn’t act soon enough," said Democratic Rep. Ras Smith of Waterloo.

The governor didn't respond directly when asked Wednesday if the state should have intervened. She defended her overall response to the crisis but said, “There’s always more we could have done.”

Tyson resumed operations Tuesday at its pork plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, which had been shut down for two weeks after an outbreak infected hundreds and killed two workers.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 554536

Reported Deaths: 7083
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1155051679
Ramsey47786853
Dakota42410422
Anoka38477415
Washington24913273
Stearns20994218
St. Louis16774297
Scott15946117
Wright14764127
Olmsted1273297
Sherburne1060080
Carver980145
Clay781289
Rice7632101
Blue Earth695840
Kandiyohi627380
Crow Wing615086
Chisago548250
Otter Tail542673
Benton530597
Mower450532
Goodhue442471
Douglas441870
Winona438149
Nobles400248
Morrison394659
McLeod394355
Isanti375159
Beltrami372257
Itasca370752
Polk365367
Steele361914
Becker353948
Lyon347848
Carlton329352
Freeborn326829
Pine311821
Nicollet306542
Brown294439
Mille Lacs281250
Le Sueur269722
Todd268730
Cass249626
Meeker235937
Waseca231221
Martin212529
Wabasha19953
Roseau197318
Renville172043
Hubbard171841
Dodge17123
Redwood166435
Houston162614
Cottonwood156821
Fillmore15169
Pennington150619
Chippewa145836
Wadena144021
Faribault143419
Sibley135710
Kanabec130621
Aitkin128636
Watonwan12549
Rock122719
Jackson117310
Yellow Medicine110419
Pipestone109725
Murray10229
Pope10226
Swift99518
Marshall85617
Stevens82010
Lake78419
Clearwater77414
Koochiching76913
Wilkin76812
Lac qui Parle73522
Big Stone5644
Lincoln5592
Grant5478
Norman5229
Mahnomen5048
Unassigned49578
Kittson46622
Red Lake3877
Traverse3595
Lake of the Woods3053
Cook1450

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 357796

Reported Deaths: 5821
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk55970604
Linn20297330
Scott19082234
Black Hawk15550306
Woodbury14897221
Johnson1404281
Dubuque13153202
Dallas1089196
Pottawattamie10747162
Story1031147
Warren555186
Clinton537390
Cerro Gordo521986
Webster508291
Sioux506073
Marshall477174
Muscatine459896
Des Moines441465
Wapello4253120
Buena Vista421740
Jasper407670
Plymouth397079
Lee368155
Marion354575
Jones293055
Henry286137
Bremer279260
Carroll279151
Crawford262040
Boone258533
Benton250355
Washington249550
Dickinson242043
Mahaska224850
Jackson217942
Kossuth212663
Clay211025
Tama206671
Delaware202839
Winneshiek194433
Page190321
Buchanan188831
Cedar183823
Fayette182941
Wright180435
Hardin179942
Hamilton178049
Harrison176373
Clayton167055
Butler162534
Mills158620
Cherokee157138
Floyd155342
Lyon154741
Madison153919
Poweshiek152733
Allamakee149051
Iowa145524
Hancock143534
Winnebago136031
Grundy135232
Cass134354
Calhoun133211
Jefferson130635
Emmet128840
Shelby128337
Sac127219
Louisa126849
Appanoose126747
Mitchell125241
Union124032
Chickasaw122615
Humboldt118326
Guthrie117929
Franklin112721
Palo Alto110922
Howard102822
Montgomery100637
Unassigned10030
Clarke98223
Keokuk94530
Monroe94128
Ida89633
Adair84532
Pocahontas83621
Monona81230
Davis79924
Greene76710
Osceola75516
Lucas74923
Worth7078
Taylor65212
Fremont6139
Decatur5899
Van Buren55518
Ringgold53623
Wayne52123
Audubon4949
Adams3284
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Cloudy
38° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 30°
Mason City
Cloudy
40° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 32°
Albert Lea
Cloudy
39° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 32°
Austin
Cloudy
39° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 32°
Charles City
Cloudy
39° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 31°
Tracking an arctic front, cooling us down for the workweek
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Electric car show

Image

Walk a Block

Image

Cleaning up Chester Woods

Image

Little Thistle collecting donations

Image

Rochester United PKG

Image

Grizzlies PKG

Image

Sara's Saturday Night Forecast

Image

April Tool's Day

Image

Byron baseball starts season strong

Image

Hayfield BB PKG

Community Events