INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Workers began returning Thursday to a northern Indiana meatpacking plant that was closed for nearly two weeks by a coronavirus outbreak among employees.
State officials also warned those eager to resume normal activities that the coronavirus spread could turn for the worse again with the lifting of many business restrictions.
TYSON PLANT REOPENS
The Tyson Foods plant in Logansport resumed limited production after undergoing a deep cleaning, installation of plexiglass workstation barriers and other measures, company spokeswoman Hli Yang said. Tests have confirmed COVID-19 infections among nearly 900 of the plant’s 2,200 employees.
Meat processing plants across the country are cautiously reopening after President Donald Trump’s executive order last week classified them as critical infrastructure.
The union representing the Logansport plant workers called on Gov. Eric Holcomb to take steps enforcing physical distancing, mandating two weeks paid quarantine time for workers with potential COVID-19 exposure and not allowing retaliation against workers who raise safety complaints.
Holcomb didn’t address the union’s statement when asked about it during his daily briefing Thursday.
Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, said her agency had worked with Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson on improving safety at the plant.
“I do know that they have instituted pretty much every measure that we asked them to do,” Box said.
Cass County, which includes Logansport, has nearly 1,500 confirmed coronavirus cases, with an infection rate that is five times greater than any other county in the state. Two COVID-19 deaths have been recorded in the county. A stay-at-home order remains in effect in the county because of the outbreak even as business restrictions have been eased across most of Indiana.
Yang said Tyson workers who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus “will remain on sick leave until they have satisfied official health requirements outlined by the CDC for return to work.”
The new order from Holcomb that took effect Monday lifted many business and travel restrictions for most of the state. Box on Thursday urged residents to remain vigilant in steps such as distancing from others and wearing masks when out in public.
“We expect that the cases will go up when we start to open things up,” Box said. “That is why we are protecting our must vulnerable populations so that, hopefully, we don’t experience those severe morbidity or mortality associated with the cases.”
Holcomb maintains that despite the state’s more than 1,400 COVID-19 related deaths since mid-March that a gradual reopening can happen as long as hospitals have the capacity to treat those seriously ill.
“We don’t know how long this will be with us, but I’m guessing through the end of the year and maybe beyond that,” he said.
Indiana health officials added 31 confirmed and six presumed coronavirus-related fatalities to the state’s death toll on Thursday, putting the state over 1,400 fatalities.
Most of the newly reported COVID-19 deaths occurred Tuesday or Wednesday, but one dated to April 21, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. That puts the April 21 total at 47 deaths, tying it with the following day for the deadliest for coronavirus reported by the state.
The state statistics list 1,295 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, along with 119 probable deaths. Those are deaths that state officials said doctors blame on coronavirus infections without confirmation of the illness from test results.
Almost 44,000 people applied for unemployment benefits in Indiana last week from business shutdowns caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
Indiana has had about 612,000 people seek jobless aid over the past seven weeks, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics released Thursday. Last week’s 43,777 initial applications were the fewest the state has received during that period — but still about 15 times more than Indiana’s weekly pace before widespread business shutdowns began in mid-March.
Nationally, roughly 33.5 million people have sought unemployment aid in the past seven weeks. That is the equivalent of one in five Americans who had been employed back in February, when the unemployment rate had reached a 50-year low of just 3.5%.