This week, Tyson Foods closed its largest pork plant in Waterloo, IA after the meat facility was linked to the biggest COVID-19 outbreak in Black Hawk County—which now has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Iowa, currently at 511. At the plant, 180 workers tested positive for the novel coronavirus and many stayed home in fear of contracting the disease. 

“Protecting our team members is our top priority and the reason we’ve implemented numerous safety measures during this challenging and unprecedented time,” Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats, said. “Despite our continued efforts to keep our people safe while fulfilling our critical role of feeding American families, the combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases, and community concerns has resulted in our decision to stop production. The closure has significant ramifications beyond our company, since the plant is part of a larger supply chain that includes hundreds of independent farmers, truckers, distributors, and customers, including grocers. It means the loss of a vital market outlet for farmers and further contributes to the disruption of the nation’s pork supply.” 

Last week, 18 state officials sent a letter to Tyson Foods, demanding that it close operations—which it did nearly a week later as the number of COVID-19 cases in Black Hawk County continued to rise. Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart says that Tyson did not act quickly enough to stop the spread of the virus. “This is not a political issue. It’s not a Republican. It’s not a Democrat,” Hart told CNN. “This is a humanitarian issue and we needed proactive steps to be able to squash this threat.” Earlier this month, Tyson also closed its Columbus Junction, IA pork plant after workers there tested positive for COVID-19, and more plant closures are expected.

The spread of the virus in slaughterhouses and meat processing facilities is not limited to those that kill pigs for food. At a Tyson poultry plant in Camilla, GA, the Associated Press has confirmed four worker deaths as a result of COVID-19, one of which was 55-year-old mother Annie Grant who felt pressured to continue working despite having COVID-19 symptoms. 

The issue is also not limited to Tyson but is widespread across the meat industry as a whole. Earlier this month, meat giant Smithfield Foods shuttered its pork plant in Sioux Falls, SD indefinitely after 230 of its workers tested positive for COVID-19 and 130 workers were confirmed positive at Cargill’s meat packaging plant near Hazleton, PA. And this week, Wisconsin reported the biggest single-day rise of COVID-19 cases, 147 of which Brown County Public Health (which now has the second most cases in the state) linked to a “cluster” at the JBS beef facility in Green Bay, WI—which remains open pending determinations by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.   

Photo Credit: Tyson Fresh Meats/Website 

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