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Black Hawk County officials call on Tyson plant to shut down over COVID-19 safety

Approximately 2,700 people work at the plant, according to Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson.
Credit: WOI

WATERLOO, Iowa — As conditions within the Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo allegedly worsen during the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Hawk County officials have taken it upon themselves to call on the plant to shut down.

A letter signed by 19 county officials was sent to Tyson management, urging the company to temporarily cease plant operations so the facility can be cleaned and the workers can be tested for COVID-19. Tyson has acknowledged they've received the leter, but otherwise, no further communication between the two parties has occurred.

Black Hawk County officials say they don't think Gov. Kim Reynolds and the state government are doing enough to combat the virus' spread within the plant, the Waterloo community and all of Black Hawk County.

Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo says he believes the governor was "not leading the State of Iowa in the right direction, and was misinforming Iowans" when she spoke about the situation at Tyson in her press conference Friday.

Dotzler read off some of the accounts obtained from the workers at the Tyson plant, accusing Tyson of doing the bare minimum to protect its employees from the virus, with the only measures taken being putting glass barriers up in the cafeteria.

One employee statement said the plant is overcrowded with workers after taking in employees from the Columbus Junction plant, which was shut down due to a coronavirus outbreak within the facility.

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The statements were obtained by the Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center, or EMBARC, which is a non-profit organization based around assisting refugees within the community, many of which are employed at the Tyson plant. 

Dotzler says he has been in direct communication with EMBARC, and believes the statements obtained to be accurate.  He also says the employees who spoke to EMBARC chose to remain anonymous in fear of losing their jobs.

Individual counties do not have the power to shut places down during a public health crisis unless that power is granted to them by the governor. Otherwise, only the governor has that power.  

The Black Hawk County Board of Health says they will keep the pressure on both the management at Tyson and Gov. Reynolds until actions are taken to help stop.

The Black Hawk County Board of Health believes if nothing is done, the plant's workers will either voluntarily stop coming to work or be too sick to work.

Waterloo mayor Quentin Hart put out a call to action not only to Tyson, but for all citizens of Waterloo, Black Hawk County and the state of Iowa to do their part to stop the spread of the virus.

"These are out neighbors, our family members, parents of the children that attend our schools; people we love very much," Hart said.  "This is about the lives of our people, and about a virus that doesn't discriminate who it impacts. We need your prayers, your support, and we need you to realize that we're in this together."

You can watch the entire briefing below.

Black Hawk Co. coronavirus briefing April 17, 2020

Posted by Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier on Friday, April 17, 2020

RELATED: Live updates: Gov. Reynolds orders schools closed for rest of the school year