April 22 (UPI) -- Tyson Foods announced Wednesday it's suspending operations at its Waterloo, Iowa, plant after almost 200 workers tested positive for the coronavirus disease.
The Springdale, Ark.-based company said the pork plant closure will be indefinite, depending on the health of its workforce.
Tyson said operations have been running at reduced levels in recent weeks as workers missed work due to ill health. Local officials told The Courier in Waterloo more than 180 employees tested positive for COVID-19 and one died.
The company said it plans to invite the Waterloo workers, which number 2,800, back to the plant later this week for testing.
"Despite our continued efforts to keep our people safe while fulfilling our critical role of feeding American families, the combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns has resulted in our decision to stop production," said Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats.
"The closure has significant ramifications beyond our company, since the plant is part of a larger supply chain that includes hundreds of independent farmers, truckers, distributors and customers, including grocers," he added. "It means the loss of a vital market outlet for farmers and further contributes to the disruption of the nation's pork supply."
Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart said he's pleased with the company's decision to suspend operations.
"This is the action we have been waiting for," he told The Courier. "Now we must do everything we can to make sure testing and support are in place and personal precautions are maintained. The virus is here. We must all do what we can to contain it."
Tyson said employees at the plant will be paid while it's closed. Other Tyson facilities throughout the country are still in operation, some at reduced levels due to the pandemic.
There have been more than 3,600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iowa and 83 deaths, according to The New York Times. Black Hawk County, where the Tyson pork plant is located, has the fourth-highest number of cases in Iowa (366) and two deaths. The county's case growth rate indicates the number of infections has sped up in recent days.
To date, there have been almost 835,000 coronavirus cases in the United States and nearly 46,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.