Lyon County Public Health reported 27 new confirmed positives for COVID-19 Tuesday afternoon, the largest increase to date.
The spike comes after public health officials rolled out new rapid testing capabilities in partnership with Tyson Foods, which was identified as the largest cluster for infection within the county so far. There are now 48 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus associated with local Tyson Foods employees.
“We’ve been checking worker temperatures as they arrive at the facility,” Tyson Communications Manager Liz Croston said. “We’re mandating and providing face coverings and have initiated additional cleaning. We’ve implemented social distancing measures, such as installing workstation dividers and providing more breakroom space. We relaxed our attendance policy in March to encourage workers to stay at home when they’re sick. We’ve also been educating team members on COVID-19, including the importance of following CDC guidelines away from work.
“When we learn an employee has experienced symptoms and tested positive, they remain on sick leave until they are released by health officials to return to work. We also affirmatively notify anyone who has been in close contact with the positive team member.”
Emporia’s plant is not the only facility identified as an outbreak cluster for the virus. Large outbreaks of the virus have also been largely associated with the meat packaging industry in Iowa, according to the Associated Press. The state currently completes 1,000 to 2,000 tests daily. More than 27,000 residents have been tested since the beginning of the pandemic, about 1 of every 113 residents. Studies have shown Iowa’s per capita rate in the bottom half of the states.
Tests have been limited to hospital patients, people with symptoms and underlying medical conditions who are over 60, those who live in large residential facilities, and health care and other essential workers. Despite the limits on who can get tested, Iowa’s confirmed cases have dramatically increased, partially due outbreaks at meatpacking plants that have infected hundreds of workers.
State data released Tuesday shows 482 more people have contracted COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, and four more have died. The tally of new cases was a one-day record, equaling roughly the number of cases in Iowa just three weeks ago. The influx boosted Iowa’s total to 3,649.
The hardest hit was Black Hawk County, which reported 107 new infections that local officials say are largely tied to a Tyson Foods pork plant. The county Board of Health approved a statement Tuesday urging the company and governor to temporarily close the plant, warning that its continued operation “will exacerbate — rapidly — the infection of its employees, their households, and the communities in which they reside.”
Tyson has rejected such calls.
When asked if and when Tyson would make the call to shut a plant down due to the virus, Croston said the company was working with local health departments.
“We work with local and state health departments, along with our facility operations team, to make timely decisions about operations,” she said.
With Tuesday’s numbers, Lyon County now has 133 identified cases of the virus, including 111 confirmed positives and 22 presumptive positives on record. Presumptive positives are cases in which an individual with close contact to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 is presenting symptoms but has not been tested.
There have now been 33 total recoveries reported within the county.
Overall, there are 2,025 known cases in Kansas, with 107 deaths reported.
The first COVID-related death, an Emporia woman in her 70s, was reported Sunday.