555 coronavirus cases at Iowa Tyson pork plant

COVID-19 outbreak at meat processors slowing down processing

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A Tyson pork processing plant in Storm Lake, Iowa, is the state's latest meat plant with a coronavirus outbreak.

State officials and Tyson had said they could not confirm the number of cases at Tyson after Buena Vista County, which is home to the Storm Lake plant, had a jump in cases. But the Iowa Department of Public Health confirmed 555 employees had tested positive on Thursday.

"Five hundred fifty-five of the 2517 employees tested have had a positive result recorded so far," Sarah Reisetter of IDPH said at a press briefing. "Iowa law allows confirmation of outbreaks only when necessary to protect the health of the public."

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Tyson had scaled back operations at the plant but it remained open as of Wednesday, the Des Moine Register reported.

"The health and safety of our team members, their families and communities is our top priority," Tyson said in a statement to FOX Business. "Throughout our plants, we have put in place a host of protective measures that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing COVID-19 to protect our team members. In several of our facilities we have slowed down our line speed based on the availability of team members or to allow for proper social distancing."

Tyson employees have been affected by coronavirus outbreaks at its Iowa plants in Columbus Junction, Perry and Waterloo.

Tyson's Fresh Meat workers file in for a tour of safety measures put into place after the plant had to shut down due to a Covid 19 outbreak, Wednesday, May 6, 2020, in Waterloo, Iowa. (Brandon Pollock/The Courier via AP)

Companies like Tyson are being forced to make changes within their facilities because of the virus as the U.S. is facing a meat shortage, particularly with pork and beef, due to plant shutdowns and slowdowns.

President Trump issued an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act on April 28 ordering meat plants to stay open during the pandemic to protect the country's food supply.

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At least 18,500 reported positive COVID-19 cases have been connected to meatpacking facilities in at least 205 plants in 33 states, and at least 69 meatpacking facility workers have died of the virus at 31 plants in 18 states, according to an investigation by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. And there are more than 18,500 cases throughout Iowa.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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