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Get the latest news about the novel coronavirus from Iowa Public Radio and NPR News.

Liveblog: Tyson Foods Halts Production At Pork Plant In Storm Lake

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Michael Leland
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Iowa Public Radio

The state has allowed more Iowa businesses, organizations and parks to reopen. Iowans continue to adapt to the new normal, acknowledging that coronavirus is here with us, and resuming more community activities. 

Continue to follow the latest Iowa coronavirus news here, where we're posting news updates from Gov. Kim Reynolds, other state agencies, counties and businesses for the week of May 24-May 30.

Find the latest updates for the week of May 17-23 here. 

Friday, May 29

4:39 p.m. – Small fraction of tests conducted in Woodbury Country were done through Test Iowa program

Almost 11,000 people in Woodbury County have been tested for COVID-19, but just a small fraction of those tests were done through the state’s Test Iowa program.

Siouxland District Health Department Deputy Director Tyler Brock said during a news conference that only 718 tests were done through Test Iowa while it was in Sioux City for almost three weeks. He says there is still a lot of testing going on in the county without that resource. “So while we appreciated Test Iowa as a resource, an additional resource for our community, the vast, vast majority of testing of people that’s been done here has been done throughout the community medical, our community partners in the medical field…”

Test Iowa left Woodbury County last Friday and moved to Sioux County. In a tweet after the news conference, Brock said there were close to 6,000 total tests done in Woodbury County while Test Iowa was there.

3:35 p.m. – Revenue forecasters say Iowa will have about $360 million less for state services

Revenue forecasters say Iowa will have about $360 million less for state services in the next fiscal year than their pre-coronavirus estimate. 

Iowa lawmakers are planning to return to the Capitol next week. And they’ll have less money for the state budget then what they were expecting in early March. 

Department of Management Director Dave Roederer says that was before the state’s economy went into a “self-induced coma” to slow the spread of the coronavirus. “While bruised and somewhat battered, our fundamentals are still strong in this state. The largest question that myself and my colleagues are trying to get the answer to is when and how fast will we reenergize and rebound?”

Revenue forecasters are also expecting the state to bring in about $150 million less in the current fiscal year that ends June 30. But budget cuts for this fiscal year aren’t likely because an expected surplus should be enough to account for the change.

3:11 p.m. - Sendoff ceremonies planned for Saturday for 550 soldiers

The soldiers are from the Iowa National Guard’s first through 133rd Ironman Battalion.

Public Affairs Officer Colonel Mike Wunn says COVID-19 precautions will not allow family and friends to attend in person, so the program will be livestreamed on Facebook. “The soldiers get on a bus and prepare to depart. We’ve organized kind of a modified parade opportunity where people can park their cars along that route, have signs, wave and just kind of acknowledge the soldiers as they pass by on their way out of town to their mobilization station.”

Wunn says the Ironman Battalion is heading for the so-called Central Command which includes countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The ceremonies will be held at armories in Waterloo, Iowa City, Iowa Falls, Davenport and Dubuque.  

3:06 p.m. – Iowa receives $1.25 billion through the federal CARES Act to cover expenses related to COVID-19

At her daily press conference, Gov. Kim Reynolds laid out her immediate plans for spending Iowa’s CARES Act appropriation. More than $200 million will go into a fund supporting small businesses and housing. One-hundred million is set aside to assist farmers with losses related to the pandemic. Another $85 million will go toward building infrastructure to support distance learning and telehealth services. “To do that our state must address broadband capacity and access as well as modernize our IT systems.”

Reynolds says around $550 million will be set aside for future expenses. For example, she says some of the money could help support the state’s unemployment trust fund if it runs low. 

 2:20 p.m. -  Rally for George Floyd planned for Friday in Des Moines

Amid a pandemic, a rally for George Floyd, a black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer, is being held in Des Moines this evening at 6 p.m. near Des Moines City Hall. The rally is happening days before the state is officially lifting its ban on gatherings for groups of 10 or more.

In a Facebook event, Mike Turner, who is listed as one of the event organizers, urged attendees to remain peaceful.

"TODAY WE HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO PUBLICLY DISPLAY OUR MOST VISCERAL EMOTIONS TO THE WORLD. COME WITH YOUR PASSIONS BUT DO NOT ALLOW IT TO DEMONIZE YOUR SPIRIT AND ACTIONS," he wrote. 

Turner also urged participants to wear masks and attempt to maintain a social distance.

12:41 p.m. – Renters can apply for up to $3,200 in rent assistance

Renters and homeowners who can’t make their monthly payments because of the COVID-19 pandemic can now apply for assistance through the Iowa Finance Authority. 

Renters can receive up to $3,200 over the course of up to four months. 

The program is open to people earning less than 80 percent of the median income for their county. But it is not available to those receiving additional unemployment benefits through the federal CARES Act.

IFA director Debi Durham says people who don’t qualify will be referred to Iowa Legal Aid. “They have a network of service providers that they already work with, and so we’ll be working in partnership to make sure that anyone that comes to us that we can’t help that at least we give them to someone who can help them along the way.”

Applications are being taken at IowaHousingRecovery.com. The moratorium on evictions and foreclosures ended this week.

11:00 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds hosts press conference

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAXM5FUCEe8

10:22 a.m. –  290 new COVID-19 cases, 20 deaths reported Friday

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 290 additional COVID-19 cases Friday bringing the state to 18,792 positive tests overall.

Twenty more deaths were reported, for a total of 520 Iowans confirmed to have died of the coronavirus. 

There are 376 Iowans currently hospitalized with the virus. State health officials say more than 10,500 have recovered from the illness. 

Those numbers reflect the 24-hour period ending Friday at 10 a.m.

9:32 a.m. – Tyson foods halts production in Storm Lake

Tyson Foods is temporarily halting production at its pork processing facility in northwest Iowa’s Storm Lake.

The company said in a statement that it’s decided to do this in part because of a delay in results from COVID-19 testing and employee absences “related to quarantine and other factors.”

Tyson says that over the next two days it will idle harvesting animals and finish processing. It will deep clean and sanitize the whole facility before starting operations back up again later next week. 

State health officials Thursday announced that 555 workers at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19. That’s around 22 percent of the plant’s workforce. As of Friday morning, Buena Vista County has 709 COVID-19 cases.

Thursday, May 28

5:07 p.m. – Some worker advocates say employers aren’t adequately notifying them of outbreak at Tyson plant

Gov. Kim Reynolds has praised actions taken by meat processing companies to protect workers from the coronavirus, even as another outbreak flares at a Tyson plant in Buena Vista County.  As of Thursday, 555 employees at the facility had tested positive.

Some worker advocates have said employers aren’t adequately notifying them of how the virus is spreading.

David Ruroden, who works at Tyson in Waterloo, says he feels safe at the plant. Still, he says he wasn’t aware more than 1,000 of his coworkers had tested positive until a reporter told him. “No it is definitely a big number and…I never…like I…that’s…that makes it a little bit more…real.”

State officials have declined to confirm outbreaks at businesses unless 10 percent of employees test positive. Even then, they say notification may not be deemed necessary to protect public health. 

3:13 p.m. – Democratic lawmakers call for an investigation of the Test Iowa program

Two Democratic lawmakers are calling on the Iowa House of Representatives to investigate the Test Iowa program. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds in April unveiled the no-bid contract with Utah-based tech companies to boost the state’s coronavirus testing capacity. 

Representative Ruth Ann Gaines is the top Democrat on the House Government Oversight Committee. In a statement, she says Test Iowa has failed to meet the goals outlined by Reynolds. She says “Iowa taxpayers are on the hook for $26 million and they deserve to know whether their money is being spent wisely.” 

Test Iowa has been increasing its capacity but hasn’t reached the goal of 3,000 tests per day. Some have reported issues with inconclusive and delayed results, and with accessing the drive-thru sites.  

2:05 p.m. – Tyson pork plant reports 22 percent of workforce tested postive for COVID-19

State officials confirmed at a press conference Thursday that 555 workers at a Tyson pork processing plant in Storm Lake have tested positive for COVID-19.

That amounts to 22 percent of the plant’s workforce. 

Sarah Reisetter is the deputy director for the Iowa Department of Public Health. She says the state does not currently collect information about the number of employees who have tested positive. This makes it difficult to confirm outbreaks at businesses. “We've determined confirming outbreaks of businesses is only necessary when the employment setting constitutes a high risk environment for the potential of COVID-19 transmission. 

Officials previously said they only announce outbreaks at businesses if asked by reporters at press conferences. The state has asked employers to report to the state if 10 percent of their workforce have tested positive or are showing symptoms.

10:31 a.m. – 14,586 workers filed unemployment claims last week

Iowa Workforce Development reports 14,586 workers filed new unemployment claims with the state last week. That’s an increase over the week before and includes people who work in Iowa but live out-of-state.

Manufacturing was once again the industry with the largest number of claims followed by self-employed and health care workers.

The number of Iowans continuing to receive unemployment benefits declined again last week to about 180,000.

10:09 a.m. – 246 new cases of COVID-19, 15 deaths reported Thursday

Iowa officials are reporting 246 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 18,502 cases.

All 99 of Iowa’s counties now have at least one confirmed COVID-19 case. 

The number of Iowans who have died from the virus has reached 500 as 15 additional COVID-19 related deaths have been reported.

There are 383 hospitalized with the virus and more than 10,000 Iowans have recovered.

These numbers reflect a 24 hour period ending at 10 a.m. Thursday morning. 

 11:00 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds hosts press conference

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hY4Fyr9a_iI

Wednesday, May 27

4:30 p.m. – Local food advocates to use social media to connect food producers and consumers

The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted meat processing, forced changes at farmers markets and caused other impacts on the food system. That’s prompted some local food advocates to use social media to connect producers and consumers.

A Facebook group in Iowa called IA Farm 2 Table is less than a month old and has more than 2000 members. Creator Jenna Anthofer says she wanted a way to connect producers with surplus to customers. It’s easy enough to find buyers for vegetables, eggs, honey and processed meat. And she says many people are newly interested in buying meat directly from farmers. “Not everybody feels confident buying a whole pig and then having to process it themselves. Although I’ve tried to put some resources in the group for people to—it’s not that hard to break down a hog, here’s a video to show you how to do it.”

Reddit users compiled a list of “farms that are delivering” and launched a URL with that name.  

1:17 p.m. - Advocates expect eviction filings to spike this week in Iowa as evictions and foreclosures are allowed to resume Thursday

That’s after such actions were on hold for two months so people wouldn’t be forced to leave their homes during the first part of the coronavirus epidemic.  

Iowa Legal Aid Litigation Director Alex Kornya says because the court system isn’t fully open, most eviction hearings will still be delayed. But on Thursday, leases may be terminated for not paying rent or breaking terms of the lease. “And even though the actual hearings for those evictions won’t be taking place until maybe a few weeks to a month and a half from now, that is going to set in motion a chain of events that is going to be pretty catastrophic for a lot of people.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds says she’s establishing a new fund to prevent some evictions and foreclosures, but hasn’t shared details yet. 

Most debt collections can also resume Thursday. Nursing home evictions and property tax penalties are still suspended until June 25.

12:30 p.m. – State health officials monitor the spread of COVID-19 in Buena Vista County 

State health officials are monitoring the spread of COVID-19 in Buena Vista County in northwest Iowa after more than 400 new cases were confirmed there Tuesday. Storm Lake, the county seat, is home to two Tyson meat processing plants. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds says so far no businesses have met the criteria for an outbreak, which is 10 percent of workers testing positive. “We’re testing to make sure that we understand what the scope of that is and how we can start to isolate those that are testing positive, immediately start the case investigation so that we can get the negative individuals separated.”

Reynolds says the state is not planning to list business outbreaks on its COVID-19 website where long-term care outbreaks are published. Also, business outbreaks will not be announced publicly unless the question is raised by reporters.

10:45 a.m. – 595 new cases, 21 deaths reported Wednesday

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 595 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 Wednesday for a total of 18,256 positive tests so far. That includes an increase of more than 400 cases in Buena Vista county in where a Test Iowa site opened May 16.

Another 21 deaths were reported which means 485 Iowans are confirmed to have died of the virus.

These numbers reflect the 24-hour period ending Wednesday at 10 a.m.

The number of people hospitalized has increased to 393. Health officials say more than 9,800 people have recovered. 

 11:00 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds hosts press conference 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aA5pVh3skvc

Tuesday, May 26

4:43 p.m. – Iowa officials confirm additional COVID-19 outbreaks at two pork processing facilities in northwest Iowa

A spokesman for the governor’s office said in an email that there are 69 positive COVID-19 cases at Perdue Farms in Sioux Center and 20 positive cases at Perdue Farms in Sioux City. 

State health care professionals tested employees at the two northwest Iowa facilities earlier this month, according to Perdue. Gary Malenke, the senior vice president for Perdue Premium Pork Operations, said in a statement dated May 12 that health professionals tested employees for COVID-19 at the Sioux City facility on May 4. Employees at the Sioux Center plant were tested on May 5. Test results were available that weekend.

“Even though all associates tested were exhibiting no symptoms of the virus, the results found that some have tested positive. All the affected associates will not be returning to work for at least ten days in accordance with CDC guidelines. They will be paid for their time off and will be asked to self-isolate,” Malenke said.

Around 425 people work at the two facilities combined. The Sioux Center facility slaughters hogs and the Sioux City plant processes them. The company says it has put various health and social distancing precautions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  

2:36 p.m. – Casinos and performance venues allowed to open June 1

More activities will be allowed to resume in Iowa next week under the latest changes to the state’s coronavirus emergency proclamation.

Starting June 1, there will no longer be a 10-person limit on gatherings in Iowa. Gov. Kim Reynolds is asking large gatherings to limit participants to half of the venue’s capacity and take “reasonable measures” to ensure social distancing and hygiene practices. 

Outdoor performance venues, amusement parks, race tracks and casinos will be allowed to open June first at half capacity. Some sporting events can also start back up. 

Reynolds says COVID-19 will remain in Iowa for a while. “Our recovery is contingent on our ability to protect both the lives and livelihoods of Iowans. We can’t prioritize one over the other, we must prioritize both to move forward.” 

Reynolds says Iowans with underlying health conditions and those over 65 should continue to stay home.

12:58 p.m. – 104 new COVID-19 cases, 8 more deaths reported Tuesday

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 104 additional COVID-19 cases Tuesday for a total of 17,661 confirmed cases. 

Eight more deaths were reported. A total of 464 Iowans are confirmed to have died of the coronavirus. These numbers reflect the 24-hour period ending Tuesday at 10 a.m. 

There are 379 Iowans hospitalized. More than 9,000 Iowans have recovered, according to the state. 

12:26 p.m. - Polk County official urges restraint when bars are allowed to partially reopen on Thursday

Polk County has the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state and the local health department says there continues to be broad community spread in the Des Moines area. 

County Board chair Matt McCoy says people may want to socialize, but the virus is still a risk. “We understand the pain of the last two months of isolation, but please do not make that a wasted effort by throwing caution to the wind.”

Bars will be limited to 50 percent of their maximum capacity. McCoy says the county sheriff’s office and Des Moines police department will monitor crowds but didn’t say how the limit will be enforced.

11:00 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds hosts press conference 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGmNVFbL2aE

8:50 a.m. – Iowa counties continue to prepare for in-person voting in the June 2 primary
 
State and local officials have been encouraging people to vote absentee to reduce the chances of spreading COVID-19. Ryan Dokter is the auditor for northwest Iowa’s Sioux County. He says more than 6,000 voters have requested an absentee ballot, and he doesn’t anticipate a huge turnout at the polls. But he expects people will still come out to vote in person for some contested state and federal races. 

“We’ve had some requests come back that they’ve written on them ‘I plan to vote at the polls.’ And I run into people here and there that just say ‘I’m going to come into the polls and vote.’ So I know we’re going to have some people coming out to vote.”

Among the many precautions the county is taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the primary, voters will each be given their own pen to use and take home. Poll workers will wear masks, face shields and gloves.

 
8:45 a.m. – Infectious disease experts warn that the risk of getting the novel coronavirus has not decreased

While Iowa is counting fewer new coronavirus cases each day than a month prior, and with all businesses allowed to reopen by the end of this week, there’s still no cure or vaccine for the virus.

Rebecca Fischer is an infectious disease epidemiologist at Texas A&M University. She says the only tool to prevent spreading the coronavirus is still social distancing. Fischer added it’s challenging to overcome the public perception that relaxing restrictions means it’s safe to go places again.

“The virus hasn’t changed. We still have risk. More people in the community now are infected and available to transmit the disease to you than when we started these restrictions, are important messages to put out there.”

Fischer says it’s possible to relax restrictions while still encouraging protective behaviors like social distancing, mask wearing and handwashing.

Monday, May 24

10:07 a.m. – 344 new COVID-19 cases, 7 more deaths reported

Officials are reporting 344 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state. This brings Iowa’s total to 17,557 cases as of Monday morning.

Seven more Iowans have died from the virus. A total of 456 people statewide have died from COVID-19. 

There are 377 are hospitalized and more than 9,300 have recovered.  

Sunday, May 24

6:50 p.m. - Additional COVID-19 cases, deaths reported over the weekend

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported an additional 419 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iowa on Saturday and an additional 263 cases Sunday. This brings the state’s total to 17,213 cases.

Additionally, the state reported 26 deaths Saturday and five deaths Sunday due to COVID-19. There have been 449 COVID-19 related deaths in the state.

363 Iowans are currently hospitalized with the virus. More than 9,200 have recovered.

The state’s coronavirus website is undergoing maintenance this weekend and will not reflect updated numbers until Monday morning.