WATERLOO — Around 44% of workers at Tyson Fresh Meats have so far tested positive for coronavirus, a number calculated by statements made by Black Hawk County officials Monday.
A total of 1,346 cases of coronavirus — amounting to 1% of Black Hawk County’s total population — were reported by local health officials Monday.
“Our region of the state is continuing to see an increase in illness,” said Health Director Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye. “COVID has had a huge impact on the community.”
Egbuonye wouldn’t say how many cases came from the closed Tyson plant in Waterloo, where employees were tested en masse over the weekend. Not all results have come back yet, officials noted.
But Egbuonye said Monday 90% of the county’s cases continue to be attributable to Tyson, and Sheriff Tony Thompson noted the plant employed around 2,700 workers, meaning around 1,211 of the county’s cases were tied to the meatpacking plant, or around 44% of all Tyson workers.
“I hear corporate Tyson talking about how this community COVID spread is impacting their operations, and it makes me want to jump up out of my chair to say, ‘Their operations have negatively impacted the COVID spread in my community,’” Thompson said. “We should not be sitting where we’re sitting today.”
Of the total cases, 261 people, or 19.4%, have since recovered, and 43 people, or 3.2%, are hospitalized. The county has had 11 deaths.
Hospital administrators said more health care workers are testing positive for the virus, though officials wouldn’t say if any had died.
“It’s really becoming a scary situation,” said Dr. Dan Glascock, medical director at UnityPoint Health-Allen Hospital.
Because of the exponential increase in cases, as well as a lack of personal protective equipment and testing capabilities, Black Hawk County’s hospitals and clinics aren’t ready to begin scheduling nonessential services and procedures, Dr. Matthew Sojka, chief medical officer at MercyOne, said.
Instead, they are steeling themselves for the worst, including many health care workers with spouses and family members who worked at Tyson.
“We don’t know if another surge is going to occur,” Sojka said. “I’m very nervous about that.”
Egbuonye announced the county has its first official coronavirus outbreak at a long-term care facility, Harmony House in Waterloo, where both care providers and patients had tested positive. Officials said they would provide more details later.
At Western Home Communities, which has had four employees and one resident test positive, CEO Kris Hansen said two of those four employees had a “direct tie” to Tyson.
He also expressed concern about the “conflicting messages” from the federal and state levels as compared with local officials. Reynolds announced Monday she is allowing most businesses in the majority of Iowa counties to reopen at 50% capacity Friday and allowing churches to begin holding services statewide.
Asymptomatic carriers of the virus passing it to health care workers could have dire consequences for places like Western Home where large elderly populations live, Hansen said.
“We as a community have to continue to do a better job than we have,” he said. “If you stay home, you will save lives and prevent our caregivers from being exposed and unwittingly take it inside.”
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