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‘Iowans deserve access to the truth’: Rep. Loebsack inquires why IDPH underreported a Tyson plant outbreak; 469 new COVID-19 cases confirmed

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Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported another 469 people were confirmed as having COVID-19 during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. on Monday. The new cases increase the total number of Iowans who have tested positive to 42,485.

The newly confirmed cases were part of the 4,403 test results reported by IDPH between 10 a.m. on Sunday and 10 a.m. on Monday. The positivity rate, or percentage of people tested who were confirmed as having COVID-19, for that group of results was 10.7 percent.

IDPH also reported three more deaths from the virus on Monday, bringing the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 829.

Among the newly confirmed cases for the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. on Monday were 17 residents of Johnson County and 27 residents of Linn County. The positivity rate for the 196 tests reported for Johnson County was 8.7 percent, and Linn County’s 435 tests had a positivity rate of 6.2 percent.

According to IDPH, 29,729 Iowans who tested positive for COVID-19 since March 8 are now considered recovered. The department considers anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 to be recovered after 28 days, unless it is informed otherwise.

Loebsack seeks answers

On Friday, Rep. Dave Loebsack sent Gov. Kim Reynolds a letter asking for more information about IDPH underreporting the extent of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Tyson Foods meat processing plant in Columbus Junction.

Last week, the Associated Press revealed that days after state safety inspectors were informed by the company that 552 workers had tested positive, IDPH announced a much smaller total of COVID-19 cases at the plant. During a May 5 press conference, IDPH Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter said 221 Tyson workers in Columbus Junction had COVID-19.

A spokesperson for IDPH told the AP the number Reisetter used on May 5 was what IDPH “could verify from our data systems.”

“Iowans deserve access to the truth about the presence of this virus in their communities and their places of work,” Loebsack wrote. “Concealing this important and necessary information will only put more Iowans at risk and prolong the duration of this pandemic.”

In his letter, Loebsack, whose Congressional District includes Columbus Junction, asked for answers to the following questions.

– On what date were IDPH officials made aware that there were 522 positive COVID-19 cases at the Tyson plant in Columbus Junction?

– Have any individuals responsible for the misinformation been held responsible?

– What remedies have been put in place to ensure that outdated or inaccurate numbers will not be reported again?

– Will your administration ensure that all information regarding outbreaks at meat processing facilities is fully accurate, up-to-date, and available to the public on coronavirus.iowa.gov?

– It has been reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered on-site assistance on multiple occasions, and assistance was declined in both instances. What data did your administration consult to make these determinations, and what assistance was being offered that you deemed unnecessary?

Loebsack’s letter was the second one sent by a member of Congress to Gov. Reynolds last week regarding actions her administration has taken related to COVID-19. Three days before Loebsack sent his letter, Rep. Abby Finkenauer wrote to the governor seeking more information about her office ordering the Test Iowa site in Dubuque to conduct no more than 100 tests per day, even though there has been a surge in new cases in Dubuque County since June.

According to the governor’s office, the Test Iowa site being run by Epic Health and Wellness was not able to properly handle the 400 to 550 people it had been testing each day, causing long wait times and the mishandling of some samples.

On Friday, the governor’s office announced it was lifting the limit on the number of daily tests for the Dubuque site.

Reynolds’ original order also prohibited the Visiting Nurse Association of Dubuque from assisting people without internet access with the online assessment that must be completed to schedule a test at a Test Iowa site. That prohibition remains in effect.

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Test Iowa’s advice to anyone who wants a test but lacks internet access is to have a family member or trusted friend fill out the assessment and schedule the test.


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