“The people of Iowa have been blessed by the leadership of Gov. Kim Reynolds,” Vice President Mike Pence said during his visit to the state on Friday.
Pence was speaking to a group of religious leaders at Westkirk Presbyterian Church in Urbandale, one of two scheduled public events on Friday.
“One of the things the president and I have been most inspired by is the way people of faith have not only carried our nation in prayer during these challenging days, but the way communities of faith have never relented in their ministry reaching out to the vulnerable,” Pence said at the beginning of his remarks from the altar steps of the church.
The vice president did not say how often he and President Trump discuss the prayer habits of Americans.
After telling the religious leaders that Trump admires them, Pence turned his attention to Reynolds.
“He’s also a great fan of your governor,” Pence said. “Gov. Reynolds, we were pleased to welcome you to the White House earlier this week, and so grateful for your leadership.”
The vice president then praised Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Joni Ernst. The two senators traveled from Washington D.C. to Iowa with Pence on Air Force Two Friday morning. The flight was delayed for an hour, after Katie Miller, the vice president’s press secretary, tested positive for COVID-19.
Miller is one of Pence’s closest aides, and the second person in the White House to test positive this week. On Thursday, one of President Trump’s personal valets tested positive for the virus.
Neither Pence, Grassley nor Ernst were wearing a face mask when Air Force Two touched down in Des Moines. Gov. Reynolds, who was on the tarmac to greet the group, wasn’t wearing face mask. None of the four wore face masks during their public appearances on Friday.
Following the meeting at the church in Urbandale, Pence, the governor and the two senators took part in a panel discussion about the food supply chain hosted by Hy-Vee at the company’s headquarters in West Des Moines.
“We’ve made great progress, and I’m very confident that as we continue to put the health and safety of the American people first, as we continue to implement policies as Gov. Reynolds is doing here in Iowa, that will safely reopen our economy, we’re going to get Iowa and America back to work,” the vice president said, seated between Reynolds and Hy-Vee CEO Randy Edeker.
Pence called the steady supply of food reaching grocery stores, even as meat processing plants have become hot-spots of COVID-19 infections, “one of the great success stories.”
“As many of you know, we faced some challenges in recent weeks as we saw coronavirus outbreaks in specific meat processing facilities,” Pence said. “And President Trump — it would be on April 28 — used the Defense Production Act, signed an executive order and he classified beef, pork and poultry as scarce materials essential to the national defense.”
The order Trump signed on April 28 prevents state and local officials from either shutting down a plant to protect public health or imposing regulations that might slow production at the plants. It also shields plants from being held legally liable for safety failures that lead to workers becoming infected, and those infections spreading through the wider community.
The president cited the problem of liability as the reason the order was needed, a few hours before he signed it.
Pence said during the Hy-Vee forum the Trump administration is working with corporations that own meat processing plants to ensure the safety of the workers.
“I’m proud to report that the USDA just announced a few hours ago that 14 meat processing plants will be resuming operations,” Pence said. He then turned to Reynolds. “Governor, in fact, two here in Iowa, both of them are Tyson’s — Perry and in Waterloo.”
The Tyson plants in Perry and Waterloo have been the scenes of two of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 in Iowa.
On Tuesday, Iowa Department of Public Health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter said 730 workers at the Tyson plant in Perry had tested positive for the virus. A total of 58 percent of the workers tested at the plant were infected. Reisetter also said that 444 workers at the Tyson plant in Waterloo had tested positive.
But according to Black Hawk County officials, the actual number of workers at the Waterloo plant to test positive is 1,031. Joshua Pikora, Black Hawk County’s manager of disease surveillance and investigation, said the number Reisetter cited only reflected the number of infected workers whose tests were conducted at the plant. It did not include plant workers who were tested at local clinics and other health facilities.
Cases of COVID-19 have been reported at half of Iowa’s 18 meat processing plants, but IDPH only informs the public of facilities with infected workers when they meet its strict definition of an outbreak. For a processing plant, or any business, to meet that definition, 10 percent of the workforce at a single location where the virus is likely to spread must be absent from work or test positive.
After announcing the two Tyson plants were resuming work after temporary closures caused by the virus, Pence said, “How ‘bout a big round of applause for all these great meat processing plants who stepped up to keep our food supply strong?”
The audience at Hy-Vee’s headquarters applauded.
In addition to Pence, Gov. Reynolds, Sen. Grassley and Sen. Ernst also spoke at the Hy-Vee event, as did Hy-Vee CEO Edeker, who praised the leadership of Reynolds, Trump and Pence.
Tyson Food CEO Noel White addressed the crowd. So did two other CEOs of corporations with meat processing plants, and Zippy Duvall, president of the powerful American Farm Bureau Federation. No representatives of workers — farm workers, processing plant worker or grocery store workers — were invited to speak at the discussion on the food supply chain. No public health officials spoke either.
On Friday, IDPH reported another 398 Iowans have tested positive for COVID-19, including three residents of Johnson County and eight residents of Linn County. The newly reported cases bring the state’s total to 11,457.
The Iowa Department of Corrections reported on Friday that another staff member at Oakdale Prison in Coralville has tested positive for the virus. According to the department’s COVID-19 information page, 20 inmates and nine staff members at Oakdale have now tested positive.
IDPH also reported on Friday that another 12 Iowans have died from COVID-19, bringing the state’s death toll from the virus to 243. On Thursday, IDPH changed how data is presented on its COVID-19 information site and no longer discloses the names of the counties where the deceased lived.