COVID cases top 10K in Iowa, 700+ cases at Tyson in Perry

The Iowa Department of Public Health on Tuesday released the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in manufacturing facilities, after stalling on a request for that information Monday. According to IDPH deputy director Sarah Riesetter, epidemiologist Dr Caitlyn Pedati has determined that releasing the name of an employer is “necessary to protect the public health” when there’s been an outbreak at the business.

The announcement came during Gov Kim Reynolds daily COVID-19 press briefing Tuesday.

The IDPH defines an outbreak as 10 percent absenteeism, 10 percent of the workforce testing positive for COVID-19 or being named as a close contact of someone with the illness in a single location of an employment setting that constitutes a high risk environment for the potential of COVID transmission. The policy to release information applies to meat packing plants, food and beverage processing plants, factories with production lines, and warehouses.

Although the Tyson packing plants in Columbus Junction and Waterloo have been in the headlines more, the plant in nearby Perry has been harder hit. Surveillance testing at the Perry plant revealed 730 positive cases – 58 percent of the workforce.

Iowa Premium Beef in Tama reported 258 illnesses, or 39 percent of its employees. Tyson in Columbus Junction reported 221 COVID-positive employees for 26 percent; Tyson in Waterloo reported 444 employees for 17 percent; and TPI Composite in Newton reported 131 positive tests for 13 percent of its employees.

The 10 percent threshold is the same number used in other situations, Reisetter said. An influenza outbreak would be an example.

Iowa Department of Education director Ann Lebo announced at the press conference that Iowa has received $71.6 million from the federal Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund, part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Of that, $64.4 million will go directly to school districts. The funds will be used to cover the cost of online learning support, educational technology, professional development, mental health services, and services to support students with disabilities, among other needs.
Lebo said school districts must complete an application for the funds by May 11 and they’ll have the funds by May 13.
Greene County Schools will receive $185,236 in ESSER funds; Paton-Churdan will receive $25,163.

Lebo said the remaining 10 percent of ESSER dollars will be used by the state to address what she called “urgent issues” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the Q & A, Reynolds was asked twice about the counties in which restrictions have been eased where COVID case counts are increasing. She did not provide specific information, but said all parts of the county are being closely monitored, and that the Test Iowa initiative allows targeted testing to gather more data when needed.

She was also asked about demographic information showing the highest incidence of COVID-19 in personas ages 18-40, and if that demonstrated persons in that age range aren’t taking the pandemic seriously. IDPH’s Riesetter said that spike in that age category is attributed to surveillance testing of people who are not showing symptoms.

Reynolds was asked about plans to open the state’s campgrounds. Reynolds said she’d announce a decision later this week.

According to the IDPH’s daily press release for May 5, the department was notified of 408 additional positive cases during the 24 hours ending May 4 at 10 am, for a total of 10,111 positive cases. There were an additional 3,000 negative tests for a total of 50,458 negative tests to date, which includes testing reported by the State Hygienic Lab and other labs. One in 52 Iowans have already been tested.

An additional 19 deaths were also reported as follows:

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