In this file:
· Iowa Democrats Want OSHA to Review State’s Pork Plant Inspection
· Outbreak at Iowa pork plant was larger than state reported
· Loebsack asks Reynolds to release information about 'inaccurate' Tyson plant cases
Iowa Democrats Want OSHA to Review State’s Pork Plant Inspection
o Iowa OSHA declined to issue citations to Tyson plant
o Move comes amid pending lawsuit over worker deaths
Fatima Hussein and Bruce Rolfsen, Bloomberg Law
July 23, 2020
Three Democratic Iowa state legislators are calling on the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to review the state’s worker-safety inspection of a Tyson Foods Inc. pork processing plant after no violations were found.
Iowa’s equivalent of the federal OSHA inspected the chicken processor’s Waterloo plant on April 20, prompted by lawmaker complaints. Workers at the facility died from Covid-19 on April 18 and 23 and on May 25. The state agency on June 23 declined to issue any citations.
The legislators contend that Iowa OSHA—a federally-approved worker safety and health program operated by the state—has engaged in a pattern of “willfully inadequate inspections” at meat processing plants because it hasn’t utilized the general duty clause to cite employers. The federal version of that clause requires employers to maintain a workplace free of recognized hazards that can reasonably be mitigated.
Iowa is the nation’s leading pork producer and has about a dozen large-scale meat processing plants. Media representatives for Iowa OSHA didn’t respond to requests for comment.
In a July 22 letter to OSHA, state Rep. Timi Brown-Powers of Waterloo accused Iowa OSHA of failing to take reasonable steps to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 at processing facilities.
“The failure of the State of Iowa to properly implement the OSHA act denies the workers already injured or killed by COVID at the Tyson plant in Waterloo Iowa justice, but also denies the existing workforce safety from known hazards,” Brown-Powers said in the letter.
“As we continue to learn how COVID is spread, OSHA must make the fair decision to change their stance on how or when workers were infected with COVID,” the letter states. “OSHA should step up to do right by these families that have been affected and also prevent any additional outbreaks in the future.”
Copied on that missive and joining Brown-Powers in announcing it were fellow Democratic state representatives Ras Smith and Bill Dotzler.
CDC Guidance Cited ...
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Outbreak at Iowa pork plant was larger than state reported
By Ryan J. Foley, Associated Press
via Traverse City Record Eagle (MI) -Jul 25, 2020
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The first confirmed coronavirus outbreak at an Iowa meatpacking plant was far more severe than previously known, with more than twice as many workers becoming infected than the state Department of Public Health told the public, newly released records show.
The department announced at a May 5 news conference that 221 employees at the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Columbus Junction had tested positive for COVID-19.
But days earlier, Tyson officials told Iowa workplace safety regulators during an inspection that 522 plant employees had been infected to their knowledge, documents obtained through the open records law show.
A dozen of the plant’s roughly 1,300 workers were believed to have been hospitalized by then, and two died after contracting the virus, Tyson officials told the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The discrepancy adds to mounting questions that the state health department faces about its handling of public information during the pandemic.
The department last week forced out its longtime spokeswoman, who said she was ousted for pushing hard to fulfill media requests and that the agency’s delays and scripted talking points were embarrassing.
The agency has also faced criticism for seeking to charge thousands of dollars for open records requests and for not routinely announcing outbreaks in workplaces, among other things. The department said it has “gone above and beyond to provide up-to-date and comprehensive information” to the public.
The early April outbreak in Columbus Junction was the first of several at meatpacking plants across the state as the virus spread through crowded workplaces.
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds took a pro-industry approach to managing those outbreaks in Iowa, the top pork-producing state. She worked with executives to continue production even as thousands of workers became infected and some died, and she applauded President Donald Trump’s order to keep such plants open throughout the country.
On May 5, Reynolds said at her then-daily news briefing that the public health department had been compiling data from surveillance testing to track outbreaks, which the state defines as at least 10 percent of employees absent or ill.
She turned over the podium to health department’s deputy director, Sarah Reisetter, who said the Tyson plants in Columbus Junction, Perry and Waterloo and two other workplaces had confirmed outbreaks. Reisetter said the Waterloo plant had 444 positive cases, but county officials said days later it actually had more than 1,000.
As for Columbus Junction, department spokeswoman Amy McCoy said the 221 case figure announced by Reisetter reflected the results of the department’s testing and what it “could verify from our data systems” at the time.
“Keep in mind, we had just established an outbreak definition, and wanted to share the information we had available,” she said. “Since that initial round of testing back in April, the testing reporting process has significantly improved.”
The department never updated the number of confirmed infections in Columbus Junction. Unlike outbreaks at long-term care facilities, the department does not post workplace outbreaks on the state’s coronavirus website.
At the May 5 briefing, Reisetter said that the 221 cases reflected 26 percent of those tested, which would be 850 total tests.
Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the number of infections announced by the state appeared to reflect only the first round of testing at the plant and that additional testing had uncovered hundreds of more cases...
Loebsack asks Reynolds to release information about 'inaccurate' Tyson plant cases
Sarah Muller, KCCI Des Moines (IA)
Jul 24, 2020
WASHINGTON — (D) Rep. Dave Loebsack wrote a letter to Gov. Kim Reynolds this week asking for information on COVID-19 results at the Columbus Junction Tyson pork processing plant.
The second district representative said that on May 5, the Iowa Department of Public Health said 221 employees at the Columbus Junction plant had tested positive. But other IDPH reports said that there were 522 positive COVID-19 cases leading up to that date.
“The employees working at these plants play a critical role in maintaining the stability of our nation’s food supply and agricultural sector. I am deeply concerned that by concealing information about the true extent of the virus’ spread, the IDPH only served to further risk the health and safety of these essential workers, and in doing so, the health and safety of their families and the entire surrounding community," Loebsack said in his letter. "Iowans deserve access to the truth about the presence of this virus in their communities and their places of work. Concealing this important and necessary information will only put more Iowans at risk and prolong the duration of this pandemic.”
He asked for the following questions to be answered:
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