Gov. Reynolds won’t ‘second guess’ Tyson’s decision to penalize workers for missing shifts due to illness, as another 694 cases of COVID-19 are reported in Iowa

Video still of Gov. Kim Reynolds during her June 4, 2020 press conference.

Gov. Kim Reynolds focused on defending Test Iowa from critics during her prepared remarks at her press conference on Thursday.

“Test Iowa is now generating more tests than any other testing option in Iowa,” she said. “While we have not yet hit our capacity of 3,000 tests in one day, I’m proud that we’re getting close. Our highest daily total to date is 2,356 tests.”

Reynolds has routinely cited that 3,000 tests a day figure since she first announced the creation of Test Iowa on April 21, but she said it’s unfair to criticize the program because it’s never conducted that number of tests.

“That number was never a promise or guarantee,” the governor said. “It’s been our capacity, and we’re ready, and I’m confident if Iowans want to use the system, we’ll hit that number soon.”

Reynolds also acknowledged that some people have experienced long waits for their COVID-19 test results from the $26 million program or have had difficulty scheduling tests. She described these problems as “bumps in the road” that will be corrected.

The governor said she was aware there have been complaints about Test Iowa site locations being inaccessible for many people, but was confident this problem could be solved.

“I fully expect that we will be able to expand [Test Iowa’s] footprint across the state in the weeks and months to come,” she said.

At 10 a.m. on Thursday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported another 694 Iowans have tested positive for COVID-19. The newly reported cases brought the state’s total to 20,706. The department also said another 14 deaths from the virus had been reported since 10 a.m on Wednesday.

During her press conference Reynolds was asked about the announcement by Tyson Foods that it is reinstating its attendance policy that penalizes workers for missing shifts due to illness. The company suspended that policy in mid-March after meat processing plants emerged as hotspots of virus activity, and led to COVID-19 being spread throughout communities like Waterloo and Storm Lake, where Tyson plants are located.

“Well, I’m not going to second guess a business’ decision,” Reynolds said. “But we will do is we’ll continue to make testing available, we’ll continue to make sure they’ll have the PPE that they need, continue to make sure that through the process that they have a safe environment for employees to work in.”

Reynolds has repeatedly said in the past that the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA) is doing a good job of keeping workers safe at meat processing plants and other business sites. Last month the Associated Press revealed that IOSHA had received a complaint in April, claiming that working conditions at the Tyson plant in Perry were leading to the spread of COVID-19 among its workers. IOSHA closed the case without inspecting the plant after receiving written assurance from the plant’s manager that there were no such problems.

During the governor’s press conference on May 5, IDPH Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter disclosed that 58 percent of the workers tested at the Perry plant were positive for the virus. According to Reisetter, the plant had a total of 730 cases.

On Thursday, Reynolds was asked about if she is in favor of efforts by Republicans in the Iowa Legislature to give businesses protection from legal liability related to COVID-19 infections.

“We’ll wait till I see it in its final form,” the governor replied. “It’s working through the legislative process. That’s what it’s designed for. So we can have those conversations, so that people that support or don’t have the opportunity to weigh in with their elected officials, and we’ll see where it ends up in the process.”

That is a standard response the governor uses whenever she is asked about a potentially controversial piece of legislation. She’ll even refuse to discuss the general principles regarding such a bill. This happened on Thursday, when the reporter tried to ask a follow up question.

“But what about concerns that…” was as far as the reporter got before the governor started talking over her.

“We’ll wait till I see it in its final form,” Reynolds said. “It’s working through the legislative process. That’s what it’s designed for. So we can have those conversations, so that people that support or don’t have the opportunity to weigh in with their elected officials, and we’ll see where it ends up in the process.”

The reporter tried a third time, and this time was able to finish her question about whether workers should have the ability to hold companies legally liable if they become infected with COVID-19 due to unsafe working conditions.

“Yeah, we’ll wait till see what it looks like in its final form,” Reynolds said.

The governor’s press secretary cut off further questioning on the topic, by calling on another reporter.

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