Two weeks after being closed following an outbreak of COVID-19, the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Waterloo is set to reopen.

The pork processing facility will resume limited operations on Thursday, company officials said in a press release. Tyson Foods temporarily closed the Waterloo plant April 22 after local health officials linked a rapid rise in Black Hawk County's coronavirus cases to the facility.

A few days after the closure, Tyson invited employees back to the plant to be tested. Iowa Department of Public Health officials said Tuesday that 17 percent of the workforce -- 444 workers -- tested positive for COVID-19. The Waterloo facility has around 2,800 employees, making it Tyson's largest pork plant.

While the facility was idle, the company sanitized and deep-cleaned the entire plant.

In a news release, company officials said team members have been invited to tour the facility Wednesday to view the enhanced safety precautions and protective social distancing measures installed throughout the plant during its closure.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of our team members, their loved ones and our communities,” said Tom Hart, plant manager of Tyson’s Waterloo facility. “We appreciate the collaboration and support of Black Hawk County health officials, Mayor Hart and Sheriff Thompson as we tested team members and took proactive steps to complement our existing prevention efforts, working with epidemiologists and other experts.”

Local health officials and other community leaders recently toured the facility to review the company’s protocol to safely resume operations.

“It is my sincere hope that the Tyson Waterloo operations can once again find its footing and become a better, even more productive part of our Black Hawk County business community,” Sheriff Tony Thompson said. “The amount of obvious energy put into addressing this plant’s work space and personal protective deficiencies became clear during our recent visit and I look forward to continuing to monitor and work with local plant leadership to ensure a cooperative effort moving forward.”

“People are our number one asset and first priority,” said Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart. “I am pleased that Tyson is working on protecting its employees and partnering with the community leaders for the good of all.”

All team members returning to work have been tested for COVID-19, and any team member who has tested positive will remain on sick leave until released by health officials to return to work. Team members who have not been tested will be unable to return to work and all new hires will be tested prior to starting work.

According to Tyson officials, returning team members will see the changes made to promote social distancing and protective measures that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance. The changes include:

  • Wellness health screening of all team members each time they arrive at the facility, checking for symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath in addition to continuing use of the infrared thermometers to check temperature.
  • The supply of protective facial coverings to every team member and requiring they are worn.
  • The required use of face shields for team members where workstation barriers cannot physically be implemented.
  • Additional dedicated social distance monitors stationed throughout the facility during all shifts to help ensure team members adhere to safety protocols and social distancing requirements.
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