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Production at Iowa Tyson plants disrupted as workers fall ill from COVID-19
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Production at Iowa Tyson plants disrupted as workers fall ill from COVID-19

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Tyson Foods Storm Lake pork plant

Nearly 600 workers at the Tyson Foods pork plant in Storm Lake, Iowa, shown above, tested positive for the novel coronavirus in the spring of 2020. The company recently opened a pilot health center in Storm Lake to serve the nearly 3,000 employees at Tyson's pork and turkey plants in the Buena Vista County seat.

STORM LAKE, Iowa -- Due to the suspension of operations at a Tyson Foods pork plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, production has been shifted to other Tyson plants, including the one in Storm Lake.

The meatpacking giant stopped production at the Columbus Junction plant in southeastern Iowa after more than two dozen workers there tested positive for COVID-19. 

Hogs originally scheduled for delivery to Columbus Junction have been diverted to Storm Lake and other Tyson pork plants, Tyson CEO Noel White said Monday.

White said Tyson meat and poultry plants are experiencing "varying levels of production impact, due to the planned implementation of additional worker safety precautions and worker absenteeism."

“We’re working hard to protect our team members during this ever-changing situation, while also ensuring we continue fulfilling our critical role of helping feed people across the country," he said in a statement.

Tyson has started taking temperatures of workers at all locations before they enter company facilities. The company is mostly using temporal thermometers but at a few locations, including its flagship beef plant in Dakota City, infrared temperature scanners have been deployed.

In addition, White said Tyson has stepped up deep cleaning and sanitizing of the facilities, especially in employee break rooms, locker rooms and other areas, to protect workers. The additional cleaning sometimes requires suspending at least one day of production, he said.

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Tyson also needs more personal protective equipment for its workers, and is asking federal agencies to deliver such gear so the plants can remain in order.

"We’re working to secure an adequate supply of protective face coverings for production workers and have implemented interim protocols for temporary protective coverings, while observing food safety," White said.

Following federal and state guidelines, Tyson also is exploring and implementing additional ways to promote more social distancing at the plants. The strategies include erecting dividers between work stations and increasing the space between workers on the production floor, which White said can involve slowing production lines.

"We’re also creating more room in non-production areas. For example, at some locations, we’ve set up tents to create outdoor break rooms," he said.

Tyson, based in Springdale, Arkansas, is by far the largest employer in metro Sioux City, with more than 4,000 workers at its Dakota City plant, its Fresh Meats division in Dakota Dunes and its cold storage facilities in Sioux City.

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