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COVID-19 cases surge in Iowa

By RYAN J. FOLEY

Associated Press

IOWA CITY — Iowa reported its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases Tuesday as the number of employees testing positive at a large pork plant grew to 166 and the number of outbreaks at long-term care facilities doubled.

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced 189 new cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, taking the state’s total number of people infected to 1,899. The number of patients hospitalized with the virus in Iowa increased by 14% from Monday, to 163, and deaths grew by six to 49.

The latest data suggests some communities have been hit harder than others. While Latinos and Hispanics make up only 6% of the population, they account for 16.4% of confirmed cases. African Americans, who make up about 4% of the state’s population, account for 8.7% of Iowa’s cases.

The governor said 86 of the people newly infected are linked to the outbreak at the Tyson Foods plant in Columbus Junction, where workers have been prioritized for testing in recent days.

Tyson last week temporarily suspended production at the plant after acknowledging that more than two dozen of its 1,400 workers had the virus. The company said Monday that the temporary closure would continue this week.

Reynolds said the state made more tests available to Tyson employees as part of a plan to understand the scope of the outbreak and get the plant reopened. The governor praised Tyson’s handling of the situation and said the company, not the state, would decide when it’s safe to resume production.

“They have really been very proactive in making sure that when they stand the plant back up, they are doing everything they can not just to protect the employees but to continue a really critical part of our food supply chain,” Reynolds said.

Fueled by the Tyson outbreak, more than 1% of the 11,000 residents of rural Louisa County have tested positive for coronavirus, the highest percentage in the state. But local officials said they have the situation under control.

“Things are fine here in Columbus Junction,” Mayor Mark Huston said. “It would be nice to get the economy going again because the streets are pretty quiet.”

Reynolds said state officials were assisting other companies with reported cases. The Iowa Premium beef plant in Tama closed this week after several of its 850 employees tested positive.

The governor also confirmed that the number of long-term care facilities with outbreaks has doubled to six since last week.

The Iowa Department of Public Health defines an outbreak in a long-term care facility as one in which three residents test positive for COVID-19.

The new outbreaks included: 22 people infected at a rehabilitation center for the disabled in Ankeny; six at a Des Moines nursing home specializing in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia; and six at a Lutheran retirement home in Waverly.

Several more of the state’s 440 long-term care facilities have reported coronavirus infections of residents and staff that do not reach the state’s threshold for an outbreak.