Surveillance testing at meat processors pushes COVID cases


JOHNSTON – With close to 700 positive COVID-19 tests confirmed over the weekend, officials are now heavily focused on the state’s meat processing facilities and long-term care centers.

At Monday’s daily press conference, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said two additional outbreaks were reported over the weekend including at a long-term care facility in Polk County, and another at Premium National Beef in Tama.

Reynolds said 261 of Saturday’s 391 confirmed positives were due to surveillance testing done at Iowa meat processing facilities.

When pushed for answers by pool reporters as to whether state and federal health officials are doing enough to curb the spread of the virus in those facilities, Reynolds said the industry’s leaders are being proactive. One reporter asked if Reynolds had considered an executive order to further reduce the spread at state facilities.

“We’re working with all Tyson plants to talk about what they are doing proactively to protect the workforce and strategies in place to mitigate the virus,” Reynolds said.

“These processing plants are essential, and these workers are essential staffing.”

Reynolds said it’s critical to focus strike teams and other mitigation efforts on those facilities to try and help them stay operational as the state’s hog farmers look for answers for their livestock.

“We are the largest hog producer in the country,” Reynolds said.

“If we’re not able to move them, at some point we’re going to have to talk about euthanizing hogs and we’re not far from it. It would be devastating, not just for the food supply, but the cost of food going forward.

“We need to keep this critical workforce and critical infrastructure going.”

Iowa Department of Public Health’s Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter said the industries have been “great partners” in mitigation efforts.

Currently the state looks for a business to have 10% of staff absent from work or symptomatic before declaring that business to have an outbreak. However, long-term care providers are considered to have an outbreak if three or more positive tests are confirmed.

Reynolds had Iowa Department of Corrections Director Beth Skinner on hand to talk about the impact of the coronavirus on the state’s prison operations.

Skinner said the system has the system has just under 8,500 inmates as of March 1, the lowest number since June of 2017. She said since March 1, 811 inmates have been released, but there have also been 748 admissions.

“We’re working closely with board of parole to release those who are likely to succeed in a public setting. Four hundred and eighty-two more have been approved for release and 90 are approved for future release,” Skinner said. “It’s critical they have safe sustainable housing before they are released.”

Skinner also said in addition to the systems’ first inmate confirmed with COVID-19 over the weekend at Iowa Medical and Classification Center, two staff members at the facility have also tested positive, but Skinner said she data indicated those positives weren’t due to exposure to the inmate.

Skinner said she has also asked sheriff’s to suspend admissions and revocations at this time to prevent unnecessary exposure to jail inmates and another way to help reduce the introduction of the virus into the state’s prison system.

Skinner also said Iowa Prison Industries have produced more than 62,000 facemasks, 6,305 faceshields, 7,661 gowns and more than 16,000 gallons of hand sanitizer.

Reynolds said Iowa is home to 21 of the country’s 100 largest food processors and the state has to do what it can to keep manufacturing up and going.

“So many, many of our manufacturers are tied to food processing and it’s important to keep them up and running.”

As of Sunday the state has seen 3,159 positive coronavirus tests and 22,661 negative tests with 79 deaths.

Currently Lee County has three confirmed cases of COVID-19. Des Moines County now has 14 confirmed cases. Henry County has seen 28 positives and one death, and Van Buren County has had eight confirmed positives for the virus.

In Region 5 of the state’s Regional Medical Coordination Centers, which includes southeast Iowa, 214 people are currently hospitalized, 23 in the last 24 hours and 91 are on intensive care units. Of those, 58 are currently on ventilators.

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