WATERLOO — At least 42% of all positive cases of coronavirus in Black Hawk County are from Tyson Fresh Meats, local health officials said Monday, though that percentage was almost certain to grow as any Tyson employee with symptoms was allowed to be tested at any area hospital.
County health director Dr. Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye said the county has recorded 356 cases in Black Hawk County and three deaths as of Monday morning. That’s more than the state has recorded for the county due to a delay in the state’s reporting.
So far, 151 of those cases were related to Tyson in Waterloo.
“There is a lot of panic” among Tyson employees, Egbuonye said. “And we’re feeling that.”
Two of the county’s deaths occurred over the weekend — an adult between the ages of 41 and 60, and an adult between 61 and 80. Officials wouldn’t say if any of the deaths have been Tyson employees.
“That is over double the number of cases we reported at our last briefing, and we are expecting this number to continue to rise in the coming days,” Egbuonye said.
MercyOne and Peoples Clinic both reported seeing large increases in patients coming in for testing or medical care.
“We are starting to see what we call the surge,” said MercyOne chief medical officer Dr. Matthew Sojka.
Sojka said MercyOne’s regular intensive care unit was now “dedicated to only COVID patients,” while other ICU patients were in a different wing. At Peoples Clinic, COVID-19 patients were “taking up nearly the whole downstairs.”
“For those of you that don’t think it is happening, it is truly happening,” said Dr. Sharon Duclos, co-director at Peoples.
Both declined to share the number of currently hospitalized patients. A representative from UnityPoint was not on hand for the briefing.
Egbuonye said the county continued to get complaints from employees of Cedar Valley businesses, saying their employers were not practicing social distancing or not allowing workers who have come into contact with coronavirus to stay home as per local, state and national guidelines.
She said Tyson management locally had assured the county they were mandating mask-wearing, creating social distancing around lunch breaks and showed officials plastic dividers that were to go up between work stations, and invited county officials to tour the facility, which they did April 10.
“But one of the things we are receiving is communication from employees themselves, not feeling safe,” Egbuonye said.
And whether Tyson was using those measures or not, “we here at Black Hawk County have seen the surge because of Tyson,” she said.
Duclos added employers needed to “give (doctors) a break” on mandating employee sick notes due to the crush of COVID-19 patients taking up staff’s time, and recognize that the impact of coronavirus was going to last a lot longer than people thought.
“We’re looking at months,” said Duclos. “So employers out there that have been in the denial stage ... ‘In a few weeks they’re gonna lift this, it’s gonna be business as usual’ — think again.”
Employees similarly needed to stay home and isolate themselves, if possible from others at home, and Egbuonye said those who needed help applying for unemployment, food assistance or other needs were asked to contact EMBARC in Waterloo.
The county board of health was not planning to order the plant to close at their emergency meeting Tuesday morning after deciding they couldn’t legally do so, Egbuonye said. Instead, they were looking at alternative means of getting Tyson to temporarily close for a deep cleaning and testing, including appealing to Gov. Kim Reynolds directly.
Separately, on Monday, five local labor unions sent a letter to Reynolds urging her to slow down line speeds at food processing plants, mandate masks or facial coverings and making sure safety standards were enforced.
“Workers in food processing plants are risking everything to ensure our communities can endure this crisis,” the union presidents said in a release. “If we don’t act immediately to keep these essential workers and the millions of consumers they serve safe, many lives and our food supply will be in grave danger.”
In this Series
- 156 updates
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.