Company officials at a Tyson meat processing plant told Iowa government regulators that it understood about 40 percent of its workforce had become infected with the novel coronavirus, more than twice as many as the state health department disclosed days later, The Associated Press reported Monday.
An open records request by the AP found that Tyson executives disclosed to state workplace safety regulators during an April 30 inspection of its Columbus Junction facility that 522 of its employees had been infected “to the best of the company’s knowledge.”
The Iowa health department, however, reported on May 5 press conference that 221 had tested positive.
By that time, 12 of the plant’s approximately 1,300 workers were understood to be hospitalized, two of which died from COVID-19, Tyson officials told the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The case was the first confirmed outbreak of the novel coronavirus at a meat processing plant in Iowa, the country’s largest pork-producing state.
Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson explained that the number reported by the state appeared to reflect only the first round of tests that were conducted and that additional testing had uncovered hundreds of more cases.
“Coordinating facility-wide testing and obtaining results is a complex process that takes time,” he said.
Company officials learned of the first case at the Columbus Junction facility on April 1 and shut it down four days later after 29 workers tested positive, an Iowa OSHA inspection report said.
Tyson restarted the pork plant’s operations April 20 with new safety measures. Mickelson said officials weren’t aware of any current infections there.
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