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Five Metro Sioux City Mayors Call For More Transparency In Reporting COVID-19 Data

Courtesy of George Lindblade
This is where drive-thru testing for COVID-19 is taking place in Sioux City. Woodbury County has more than 600 positive cases of COVID-19.

Five mayors in the Sioux City metro area are calling on public health organizations to be more transparent in reporting information on COVID-19.
The mayors from Sioux City and Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, along with their counterparts in South Sioux City and Dakota City, Neb. and North Sioux City, S.D. issued a statement asking county and state public health departments to cite specific locations where outbreaks or a spread of the new coronavirus have happened. The letter also asks businesses to take responsibility for an outbreak that happens in their facilities.

“This includes providing accurate information to employees and the public about any confirmed cases in their facilities and the steps they are taking to protect their employees,” the mayors wrote. “This information should be shared in a response plan to reduce the spread of the disease in their facilities and our community. If these steps cannot be taken, we would ask the business to close until such time a response plan is in place.”

The mayors also urged the governors of the three states to “act cautiously” when lifting restrictions related to COVID-19 across the three states.

The statement was signed by mayors Bob Scott of Sioux City, Jon Winkel of Sergeant Bluff, Rod Koch of South Sioux City, Jerry Yacevich of Dakota City and Randy Fredericksen of North Sioux City.

Woodbury County, Iowa and Dakota County, Neb. each have more than 600 cases of COVID-19. But officials have declined to point to a reason for the spike other than an increase in testing. In an April 24 news release, Siouxland District Health Department in Woodbury County cited Iowa law constraints as a reason for withholding information. The health department did acknowledge that people leaving the county to work in another state have tested positive for COVID-19, but wouldn’t name the business they work for.

“Siouxland District Health would like to acknowledge that a significant majority of the people in our community who have tested positive work in another state in industries that are particularly hard hit by COVID-19, or are close contacts of those workers,” the health department said Friday. “We are working to get the percentage of the current cases that are associated with this industry, and will have a better number when the contact tracing of all the new cases from today (Friday) has been completed. Siouxland District Health Department is not able to disclose the name of the business where these individuals are employed at this time.”

The Iowa State Auditor's Office sent a statement Sunday clarifying the role of Iowa law in disclosing health information: Iowa law can bar a county health department from disclosing the name of  a business, but the state epidemiologist and the Iowa Department of Public Health have "the authority to make those business names public if they determine 'such a release of information necessary for the protection of the health of the public'," the auditor's office said.

Last week, Siouxland District Health reported the first death in Woodbury. The Sioux City Journal reported the man had been an employee of a Dakota City Tyson Fresh Meats plant. Tyson spokeswoman Liz Croston said in an email to IPR last week that Tyson has confirmed cases in employees “at some of our U.S. locations,” but declined to name the Dakota City plant. Croston said Tyson is checking the temperature of workers when they arrive at facilities and all workers are wearing face coverings.

“We’ve implemented social distancing measures, such as installing workstation dividers and providing more breakroom space,” Croston said. “We relaxed our attendance policy in March to encourage workers to stay at home when they’re sick.”

Croston said Tyson employees who have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 “remain on sick leave until they are released by health officials to return to work.” The company notifies other employees who might have been in close contact with the employee who tested positive, she said.

Asked again on Monday about how many cases of COVID-19 Tyson has at its Dakota County facility, Croston said, “Since this is an ever-changing situation we are not sharing specific numbers.”

In northeast Iowa’s Black Hawk County last week, Tyson Foods closed its Waterloo plant, the company's largest pork processing plant, after workers there tested positive for COVID-19. The company had received pressure from county elected officials and the Black Hawk County Board of Health to temporarily close.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.