58 percent of workers at Tyson meat factory in Iowa test positive for coronavirus

An Iowa Public Health Department report showed that more than 700 workers contracted the virus at a meat plant in Perry.

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By Doha Madani

More than 700 employees at a Tyson Foods meat factory in Perry, Iowa, have tested positive for the coronavirus as the nation braces for a possible meat shortage due to the pandemic.

An Iowa Department of Public Health report released Tuesday showed that 58 percent of the factory's workforce had tested positive for the virus, NBC affiliate WHO of Des Moines reported. Authorities said late last week that nearly 900 workers were confirmed to have the virus at a Tyson Foods plant in Indiana.

Tyson Foods said in a statement that the pandemic has forced the company to slow production and close plants in Dakota City, Nebraska, and Pasco, Washington, along with the Perry plant.

"We have and expect to continue to face slowdowns and temporary idling of production facilities from team member shortages or choices we make to ensure operational safety," the statement said.

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John Tyson, board chairman of Tyson Foods, warned that the food supply chain is breaking in a full-page advertisement published last month in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Tyson Foods is not the only meat company facing worker infections. A Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, closed in April after two workers died and 783 others tested positive for the virus.

The pandemic's impact on meat plant workers has caused serious concerns about the supply chain in the U.S. and fears that the country could experience a meat shortage.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order to compel meat processing plants to stay open last week under the Defense Production Act. Trump said he will also provide liability protection.

"We have had some difficulty where they are having a liability where it's really unfair to them," Trump said at a small-business event at the White House last week. "I fully understand that it's not their fault."

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Joe Biden, the apparent Democratic presidential nominee, said Monday that he feared for meatpacking workers. He said such plants, along with nursing homes, have become "the most dangerous places there are right now."

"They designate them as essential workers and then treat them as disposable," Biden said of the meatpackers.