Indiana meat plant closing after workers contract virus


LOGANSPORT, Ind. (AP) — Tyson Foods Inc. announced Wednesday that it will temporarily close its meatpacking plant in north-central Indiana after 146 employees tested positive for coronavirus.

The Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Logansport produced 3 million pounds of pork daily. Tyson suspended production Monday to allow for cleaning and sanitizing. The plant reopened Tuesday and is running at limited capacity because of decreased worker attendance. The company will stop all production by Saturday.

“The combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns has resulted in a collective decision to close,” said Steve Stouffer, of Tyson’s beef-and-pork subsidiary.

Cass County officials said 47 people in the county have tested positive for the virus, with some of those traced back to Tyson employees. Testing of all remaining plant workers will start Thursday, said Cass County Health Department Administrator Serenity Alter. She said officials are hopeful that the test results back within several days so the plant can resume production.

Employers have struggled to contain the virus in meatpacking plants, where workers toil side by side on production lines and often share crowded locker rooms, cafeterias and rides to work.

Several facilities have temporarily closed due to virus outbreaks, including a Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a JBS USA plant in Worthington, Minnesota, and a Redwood Farms Meat Processors in Estherville, Iowa. Others have stayed open or resumed production after pauses for testing and cleaning.

An estimated 25% of U.S. pork processing capacity has been closed or idled due to reduced operating speed over the past two days, said Steve Meyer, an economist with Kerns and Associates in Ames, Iowa.

“Closing facilities have serious implications to the national food supply for American families, local communities, growers and farmers,” Stouffer said. ”When a facility closes, the availability of protein for consumers across the nation will only decrease.”

Prices are starting to rise as a result, with analysts warning of an upcoming shortage of certain products at grocery stores. At the same time, hog prices are plummeting due to excess supply, which is hurting farmers.