Two Tyson Fresh Meats plants announced they would suspend operations on Wednesday after more than 300 employees tested positive for the coronavirus. The closures place further strain the nation’s meat supply chain.
The company’s largest pork facility in Waterloo, Iowa, which is critical to U.S. pork supply, had remained open despite concerns it had fueled a massive coronavirus outbreak in the region. More than 180 infections have been linked to the plant, according to Black Hawk County Health Department, accounting for nearly half the county’s total infections. Tyson Foods said Wednesday that operations would be idled “indefinitely.”
Another pork plant in Logansport, Indiana, announced it would also close by Saturday. The plant, according to Tyson Foods, produces 3 million pounds of pork daily. It had closed Monday for deep cleaning but resumed operations Tuesday at limited capacity. At least 146 employees there tested positive for COVID-19, the Cass County Health Department confirmed to HuffPost.
The 2,800 pork plant employees in Waterloo and 2,200 in Logansport will undergo coronavirus testing this week. They will continue to be compensated during the closure, the company said.
“The combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns has resulted in a collective decision to close,” said Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats.
Workers who had tested positive, as well as many workers who were afraid of contracting the virus, were staying home.
In Iowa, local officials had been sounding the alarm to Tyson and Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) for weeks, warning that workers were in danger due to inadequate protection from the virus. Last week, Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart called for the facility to be closed.
Cass County Health Department officer Dr. Dori Ditty said in a statement that the department was working with the Logansport plant to reopen as safely and as quickly as possible.
“Tyson has done its part in implementing measures and are now working with us to test workers. We’re making a clear commitment to do our part to mitigate the spread within the community by reinforcing CDC guidelines in our county,” Ditty said.
The closures should have significant ramifications for the national food supply, Stouffer said.
“Consumers will see an impact at the grocery store as production slows. It also means the loss of a vital market outlet for farmers and contributes to the disruption of the nation’s pork supply,” the Tyson group president said.
Several meatpacking plants have closed around the country as close-quartered production lines and facilities have led to outbreaks of the virus. Some plants, including the Waterloo and Logansport facilities, had introduced social distancing measures or temporarily closed for sanitization in an effort to contain the spread.
Smithfield Foods shut its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, plant last week following an outbreak there, and a Redwood Farms Meat Processors in Estherville, Iowa, and a JBS USA plant in Worthington, Minnesota, have also closed down.
Analysts warn the closures mean consumers could see shortages and increased prices at the supermarket, and farmers are suffering huge losses as hog prices fall.