Tyson Foods plans to temporarily close an Iowa pork plant where nearly a quarter of workers have contracted the new coronavirus.
The meat processing giant announced the move Thursday after Iowa officials said 555 of the 2,517 employees at the Storm Lake facility had tested positive for the life-threatening virus. That’s about 22 percent of the plant’s workforce.
Tyson partly attributed the shutdown to worker absences and a delay in the COVID-19 test results. The plant will restart operations next week after a deep cleanup, the Arkansas-based company said.
The shutdown came in the wake of President Trump’s executive order in late April that ordered meat plants to remain open during the coronavirus crisis. The virus forced nearly 20 slaughterhouses to close, including Tyson’s largest pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa, last month, raising concerns about a meat shortage in the United States.
The coronavirus has killed at least 44 meatpacking workers and infected more than 3,000, the International Union of Food and Commercial Workers of the United States said Thursday. The union joined with farmers and ranchers in calling for more testing and social distancing at the plants, better access to protective equipment and other safety measures.
“When meatpacking plants struggle to contain this virus, not only indoor workers like me are at risk, but also family farmers and ranchers,” John Massalley, a worker at Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, South Dakota , he said in a statement.
Tyson said he has required employees to wear masks as part of the security measures he has implemented. Its Storm Lake plant can kill about 17,250 pigs per day at full capacity, accounting for approximately 3.5 percent of the nation’s production prior to the coronavirus pandemic.