WATERLOO, Iowa — Tyson Foods announced Wednesday that it is suspending operations indefinitely at a large Iowa pork processing plant linked to a growing coronavirus outbreak.
The company warned that its closing of the Waterloo, Iowa, plant would be a blow to hog farmers and potentially disrupt the nation's pork supply. Tyson had kept the plant open in recent days over the objections of the mayor and other local officials.
The plant employs nearly 3,000 workers and can process about 19,500 hogs per day, about 4% of the U.S. pork processing capacity.
More than 180 infections had been confirmed among plant workers earlier this week and officials expect that number to rise. In addition to those infected, hundreds of workers had stayed home from work out of fear of catching the virus.
The announcement comes as employers have struggled to contain the virus in large meatpacking plants, where workers toil side by side on production lines and often share locker rooms, cafeterias and rides to work. Several other packing plants have temporarily closed after large outbreaks, including a Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and a JBS USA plant in Worthington, Minnesota.
“Despite our continued efforts to keep our people safe while fulfilling our critical role of feeding American families, the combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns has resulted in our decision to stop production,” Tyson Fresh Meats president Steve Stouffer said in a statement.
He warned that the closure would have “significant ramifications beyond our company” since it's part of a supply chain that includes farmers, truckers, distributors and grocers.
The announcement came one day after the Black Hawk County Board of Health called on the company or Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds to temporarily close the plant. The board warned that its continued operation would exacerbate the spread of the virus through the community.