Perry factories so far free of Tyson virus troubles

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No COVID-19 cases have cropped up at the Progressive Foundry in Perry.

Tyson Foods Inc. has faced big production challenges in recent weeks as hundreds of workers in multiple plants tested positive for COVID-19, and the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Perry confirmed the presence of positive cases of the virus but withheld the exact number.

The nation’s second-largest meat processor, Tyson was forced to shut several pork processing plants, including factories in Waterloo and Logansport, Indiana, this week and the Columbus Junction plant April 6, after dozens of workers tested positive.

Perry’s other factories, Osmundson Manufacturing and the Progressive Foundry, have so far been blessed with virus-free work places. Wiese Industries did not return multiple calls for comment.

“I find it hard to believe,” said Heather Bruce, president of Osmundson Manufacturing, “that any viral thing that could be happening is going to last long in our heat furnaces.”

Bruce said social distancing is not an issue on her 140,000-square-foot shop floor because the steel plant has “75 total employees, including the office staff, so everyone is already seven feet or more apart.”

She said all the standard precautions recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been in place since Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a public health disaster emergency March 17.

She said two doors stand permanently open to the factory so no one needs to touch a door knob. There is no longer any congregating around the lockers or eating in lunchroom, but all the workers now take their breaks and lunch hours in their vehicles.

The first and third shifts have been staggered or “so there’s no intermingling between shifts,” Bruce said. She said DMACC provided Osmundson’s with a supply of face masks, two per person, and some people have brought homemade masks to the job.

“To us it’s not mandated,” she said, “because there hasn’t been anything either mandated or anything saying, ‘Yes, this is 100% fool proof or not,’ so it’s up to the employee’s discretion.”

Bruce said she has not been contacted by the Dallas County Public Health Department.

“We’re hoping eventually they’ll be like, ‘Hey, we’d like to have your people tested because you are so close to an area where there was an outbreak,'” she said, “but, no, we haven’t heard anything nor have we reached out because at this point there has been no reason for concern.”

Darek VanKirk, co-president of the Progressive Foundry, also said no positive cases of COVID-19 have cropped up among the 90 workers at his factory.

“Besides all the hysteria, we’re doing just fine,” VanKirk said. “I’m not saying it won’t happen. We seem to be right in the thick of things right now, but we’ve been lucky so far.”

Like Osmundson’s, the Progressive Foundry has not needed to impose social-distancing rules on the shop floor.

“Fortunately for us, everybody works at a good distance apart from each other,” VanKirk said. “They’re not on top of each other. We’re not an assembly-line type of industry. You kind of have your job, and you do it on your own with people a safe distance apart from you for the most part.”

Also like their steel-making neighbors to the west, the iron casters at the foundry are following the standard CDC guidance.

“We’re doing everything the government is telling us to do,” he said, and they are even doing a little more, such as taking temperatures daily and requiring everyone to wear a face mask.

“If they’re in the building, they’re required to have a mask on” he said. No one is using the lunchroom at present, and the pop machines have been closed down. The bathrooms are cleaned three or more times a day, with a deeper cleaning at night.

“All in all, we’re still operating just like we normally would,” he said. “All the office help is working from home, and I’m surprised how well it’s working.”

The leadership at Wiese Industries did not return phone calls, but it is hoped they have also maintained a virus-free workplace and are helping flatten the curve in Perry.

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