Local health officials confirm coronavirus outbreak at Joslin Tyson plant

(Photo: Tyson Foods)(MGN)
(Photo: Tyson Foods)(MGN)(KWQC)
Published: Apr. 29, 2020 at 4:32 PM CDT
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The Rock Island County Health Department on Wednesday confirmed an outbreak of novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at the Tyson plant in Joslin.

Administrator Nita Ludwig said during a daily briefing of the QC COVID-19 Coalition that as of Wednesday morning there were about 92 confirmed cases and two deaths of Rock Island County residents that work at the plant.

The health department said employees of Tyson also live in other Illinois and Iowa counties. It is the responsibility of the employee’s home county to follow up on cases, the health department said.

The health department also confirmed that confirmed cases of coronavirus have climbed to 426. Across the river in Iowa, Scott County is reporting 222 total cases.

The Tyson outbreak could be a reason for the higher number of confirmed cases on the Illinois side of the Quad-Cities, she said.

“We do know that a lot of refugees and immigrants and people of color in general that live in the Illinois Quad-Cities do work out at the Tyson plant,” she said.

Other factors are at play, Ludwig said.

“Rock Island County’s larger number also could be partially due to the social determinants of health and our demographics in Rock Island County," she said. "For more than 15 years, we have seen poorer health outcomes in our community health assessment for Rock Island County than we do in Scott County. The data are showing that patients who have co-morbidities have a greater chance of serious COVID-19 infection or dying from the disease.”

Ludwig said the health department is working “very closely” with the leadership at the plant and added they have done “many mitigation efforts to try to stop the spread of the infections out there.”

“I do think that they are trying whatever they can do to try to minimize the spread of the illness,” she said. “We do know that meatpacking plants all across the country seem to have a lot of infections going on and that is because of the nature of their work.

“But, we also know that of course, the president has now basically mandated them all to stay open, so our best efforts are to try to reinforce all the mitigation efforts that they're doing, continue educating all the workers.”

Tyson has put up plastic glass barriers between workers and has staggered shifts and lunch schedules to reduce the number of employees congregating together, Ludwig said.

Tyson also has initiated wearing masks and face shields at all times, she added.

A team from the health department visited the plant earlier this month. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is responsible for inspecting all meatpacking plants for food safety and operations, she said.

Ludwig said employers are required to tell staff that an employee has tested positive for coronavirus but are not required to identify who that employee is.

With the coronavirus being widespread through the community employees at workplaces should work at least six-feel apart, clean workspaces frequently, wash hands frequently, and cover coughs.

The health department's infectious disease team has been working with each patient and family to help minimize the number of infections outside of the plant through a process called contact tracing, which is the basis of public health infection control.

Public health staff asks patients a series of questions to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the timeframe while they may have been infectious. For the coronavirus, the contagion period is 2-14 days after exposure.