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PUBLIC HEALTH

Storm Lake meat-processing facility has coronavirus outbreak, state officials confirm

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There are 555 confirmed coronavirus cases at a Tyson Foods meat-processing facility in Storm Lake, which marks the latest outbreak at such a facility in Iowa, according to state health officials.

That means at least 22 percent of the facility's employees have contracted the new virus. The threshold for the state to confirm an outbreak at any business is 10 percent, a long-used mark for businesses and schools that has historically pertained to influenza cases.

Today's announcement came one day after reporters pressed Gov. Kim Reynolds and Tyson Foods about a potential outbreak at the facility due to Tuesday's one-day increase of more than 400 new coronavirus cases in Buena Vista County, where Storm Lake is the county seat.

Reynold's said Wednesday that "we have not confirmed that yet," and a Tyson spokeswoman said her company was waiting for "complete data" before notifying the state of a potential outbreak.

Reynolds and Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of the state Department of Public Health, have said in recent days that notifications of outbreaks will come when state officials decide that residents need to know about an outbreak for their own safety, or after a reporter asks about them. A similar outbreak at a Sioux Center facility went unannounced for about two weeks until a reporter asked about it this week.

"We've been announcing them at these press conferences as the questions have been asked," Reisetter said Wednesday.

She said today that state officials have been following the same long-held guidelines they use for outbreaks of influenza. The new coronavirus appears to spread more easily and has a higher rate of death of the people it infects, and there is not a vaccine to protect against it. Reisetter did not say why the state is using the same guidelines to monitor it.

Buena Vista County now has 701 confirmed cases, which ranks it the highest in the state for infections per capita. Crawford County has 489 cases, which ranks it third-highest.

The rate of new confirmed cases in Crawford has slowed in recent days, but so has testing. There were seven people tested in the county Wednesday, according to state data.

Carroll County still has just nine confirmed cases.

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