DES MOINES — Health officials Thursday confirmed another outbreak at a meat processing plant as the state reached a pair of unfortunate milestones: Iowa passed 500 deaths from COVID-19, and all of the state’s 99 counties now have at least one confirmed case.
“We are still in substantial spread throughout the state of Iowa. We have been since March 8,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said during her daily briefing. “We are going to have to learn to live with and manage COVID-19 until or if a vaccine is discovered.”
The Iowa Department of Public Health confirmed an outbreak at the Tyson pork processing plant in Storm Lake, saying 555 of the plant’s 2,500-plus employees tested positive for the virus.
Tyson, which also operates a turkey processing operation in Storm Lake, plans to release results from its plants once the testing of its roughly 3,100 employees in the area is completed next week.
Buena Vista County, where Storm Lake is located, had 701 positive cases as of Thursday, or 3,527 cases per 100,000 people. That is the largest concentration of cases in Iowa.
At least eight plants across the state have had confirmed virus outbreaks, infecting thousands of Iowans.
Businesses in Iowa are not required to report outbreaks to the health department, and Iowa law only requires disclosure of a business name when it’s necessary to protect the public, said Department of Public Health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter. The agency’s policy is not to release a company’s name unless at least 10% of workers test positive and then the release may not be made publicly unless reporters inquire.
Reynolds and state Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig used Thursday’s briefing to address the issues those outbreaks have created on Iowa farms — which now have more hogs than beleaguered packing plants can handle — and to detail the assistance they say those farmers have received and still need.
Temporary shutdowns and reduced operations at processing plants have created a backlog more than 600,000 excess hogs in Iowa, according to an Iowa State University analysis.
Naig said processing capacity across the state currently was operating at about 80%.
A program introduced Thursday by the state ag department will provide financial assistance to farmers who have excess animals that need to be euthanized.
“Euthanasia is always the last resort,” Naig said. “... A pork producer’s goal is to raise healthy animals to feed others. It’s what they do. So euthanasia goes against everything that they do every day and everything that they stand for, and it creates a tremendous amount of emotional stress for those producers.”
Public health data shows 504 people had died of the coronavirus in Iowa as of Thursday, up 19 from Wednesday. There more than 317 new cases reported for a total of 18,723.
The Black Hawk County Health Department reported 13 more cases and two more deaths Thursday for a total of 1,950 cases and 43 deaths.
While new deaths continues an upward trend, statewide hospitalizations and recent admissions continued to trend downward.
And with a positive case confirmed in Decatur County in south central Iowa, the virus has now been confirmed in all 99 counties.
Also Thursday, Iowa reported a jump in the number of people filing for unemployment last week compared to the week prior, according to a new U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
The report showed 14,586 new claims filed between May 17 and May 23. That was an increase from the previous week, when 13,040 people filed unemployment claims in Iowa. More than $661 million in benefits has been paid out since April 4, the release said.
Those industries with the most claims last week included manufacturing, which saw more than 3,800 claims, health care and social assistance, with right at 1,400 claims and retail, with more than 900 claims. Nearly 2,400 claims last week came from the self-employed, independent contractors and other unspecified industries — nearly twice the 1,250 in that category who filed the week prior.
Nationally, more than 2.1 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, according to the Labor Department. About 41 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the weeks since the coronavirus first forced millions of businesses to close their doors and shrink their workforces.
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