Tyson back at work Monday; tests results expected soon

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IDPH Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter said Monday the IDPH makes public a COVID-19 outbreak at a private business when "10% of their workforce has been identified to be either COVID positive or has been in close contact with somebody who has identified to be positive for COVID."

Pork processing resumed at the Tyson Fresh Foods plant in Perry Monday after a weeklong pause following the April 25 surveillance testing of the 1,300-member workforce, and the results will be released in the next few days, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH).

“Perry is operating, and we have completed testing of all Perry team members,” Liz Croston, Tyson Foods Inc. communications manager, said in an email message Monday to ThePerryNews.com. She said that “any new hires will also be tested.”

Croston said enhanced cleaning and sanitizing of the entire facility is ongoing. In addition to measures previously implemented, some of the company’s new efforts include:

  • Conduct wellness check and screen workers for additional symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath
  • Have designated monitors at each facility to help enforce social distancing
  • Provided additional hand sanitizer stations throughout the facility
  • Changes such as dedicated walkways and floor markers to manage social distance in common areas

Perry Mayor John Andorf and Perry City Administrator Sven Peterson toured the Perry facility April 21 in the company of Plant Manager Mike Grothe, and they were suited up with personal protective equipment and scanned for fevers before entering the facility.

Peterson said every employee they saw while touring the pork plant was wearing a face mask, and dividers were in place on the production line and in the break room.

“Hopefully, all those measures help the whole situation,” he said. “A lot is falling on these employees to help with protecting the rest of the country and the food supply. Keeping them safe helps the farmers and ranchers and feed producers, and it also helps you and me walk into a grocery store and buy food. So it’s in all of our best interest to support these folks as the essential workers that they are.”

Peterson said while a lot of attention has been given to virus testing at the Perry plant, he is more interested in the virus’ spread across the community.

“I’m not fixated on Tyson,” he said. “I’m concerned with the numbers in our area so that we know what we’re looking at compared to other parts of the county. If it’s spread across the county evenly, great, but if we have a stronger issue here in Perry, I think it’s important that we understand our local situation.”

Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter said Monday the IDPH makes public a COVID-19 outbreak at a private business when “10% of their workforce has been identified to be either COVID positive or has been in close contact with somebody who has identified to be positive for COVID.”

According to Iowa Code SEction 139A.3(2)c, “information disclosing the identity of the business may be released to the public when the state epidemiologist or the director of public health determines such a release of information necessary for the protection of  the health of the public.”

Reisetter said Monday that releasing numbers for business outbreaks was “actually one of the things that we’ll be confirming today in terms of where we have seen outbreaks and whether it’s in the public’s interest for us to release the names of those businesses at this time.”

The IDPH confidential information policy recommends that “efforts should be made to actively involve the business in the release of the information to mitigate damages to the reputation of the business to the extent feasible.”

Apart from positive COVID-19 cases at the Perry Tyson plant, Peterson said zip code-level case numbers are needed in order to help the city in planning its operations and policies.

“Until the state releases information based on a smaller geographical region, we have to operate on the assumption that a majority of the cases are in Perry,” he said. “It would be the same for all communities if you’re playing the safe side of things.”

Peterson said he understands residents’ frustration at what appears to be stonewalling by the community’s largest employer, but he said the true frustration many people feel is more general.

“Frustration arises from how complicated things are,” he said, “and it’s directed at the situation that we’re all in together. We will continue to work together and get through it together. It’s not about pointing fingers at one another but getting together and working together to solve the issue at hand and protecting the public. Our number one goal right now is to protect the public.”

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