The Iowa Department of Public Health reported on Saturday that another 757 Iowans have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the state to 8,641. The new number breaks the record for the number of cases reported on a single day that was set on Friday.
Gov. Reynolds warned Friday that the number of new cases reported over the weekend would likely be high, as the State Hygienic Laboratory attempts to clear a back-log of unprocessed test kits. Part of the back-log is due to the laboratory’s effort to validate the accuracy of the kits being used by Test Iowa.
The new cases include 12 residents of Johnson County and 32 residents of Linn County. According to IDPH, the total number of those counties’ residents who have now tested positive are 407 and 705, respectively.
For weeks, Linn County led the state in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19. Recently, it has been surpassed by Polk (1,350 cases), Black Hawk (1,255 cases) and Woodbury (1,704 cases).
Woodbury County only had 21 confirmed cases on April 14. As in Black Hawk County, its surge in cases is related to an outbreak at a Tyson meat processing plant. However, unlike the situation in Black Hawk, the plant responsible for the cases in Woodbury isn’t located in the county. It isn’t even located in Iowa — it’s across the Nebraska state line in Dakota County.
Tyson has refused to disclose the number of workers that have tested positive for the virus at that plant, or at its other meat processing plants. The company claims that providing the number of infected workers would somehow violate the privacy rights of those workers. The other two major meat processing companies — JBS and Smithfield — also refuse to reveal the number of infections at their plants.
The public health departments in Iowa and Nebraska have refused to tell the public how many workers at the Dakota County plant have tested positive, but on Thursday, the Sioux City Journal revealed 669 of the plant’s workers had so far tested positive. The three companies account for two-thirds of the country’s beef production, and almost as much of its pork and poultry production.
Gov. Kim Reynolds has consistently and vigorously defended the actions of Tyson and other meat processors related to COVID-19. Reynolds has said that company CEOs and plant managers have assured her their processing plants are doing an excellent job of protecting their workers and preventing the spread of the virus. The governor has not, however, spoken to any groups representing workers.
At her press conference on Tuesday, Reynolds was asked if the public has the right to know how many workers at the state’s 18 meat processing plants are infected.
“I’m not going to comment on that until I can get a little bit more background on it and visit with the attorney-general,” the governor replied. “But what I’ve seen is that our processing plants have done everything they can continue to work to make sure that their employers [sic] are working in a safe environment.”
Hours after Reynolds’ press conference on Tuesday, President Trump signed an executive order invoking the National Defense Procurement Act, and declaring meat processing plants qualify as essential infrastructure necessary to the nation’s security. The order requires the plants to remain open. It also shields the companies that own plants from legal liability related to their roles in the spread of COVID-19.
Five more Iowans have died from COVID-19, IDPH reported on Saturday, bringing the total number of such deaths to 175. The deceased include two residents of Linn County.
Newly reported deaths by county
• Linn County, 2 older adults (61-80 years)
• Polk County , 1 older adult (61-80 years)
• Tama County, 1 older adult (61-80 years)
• Woodbury County, 1 older adult (61-80 years)
According to IDPH, six residents of Johnson County and 47 residents of Linn County have died from the virus so far.