WEST LIBERTY, Iowa–As meat packing plants across Iowa report high number of COVID-19 cases at their facilities, many in Muscatine County have concerns about the spread of the virus at West Liberty Foods. On April 23, West Liberty Foods published a letter on their Facebook page stating in part that 39 of their 994 employees had tested positive, and that they would continue to post daily case numbers (by May 1, when this newspaper went to press, the number had grown to 71). Though controlling the spread of COVID-19 continues to pose a challenge to West Liberty Foods, the company has taken numerous steps to protect their workers.
West Liberty Foods has taken many of the precautions other plants have to slow the spread, including having the Iowa Department of Public Health offer diagnostic and serology (antibody) testing April 30 and May 1, conducting temperature checks, providing masks for workers to use, putting up partitions between workers, and staggering start times.
However, West Liberty Foods has also added additional measures, such as ordering face shields for all employees (which they received at the end of last week), partitioning break rooms and offering outdoor dining options to help workers social distance effectively, and slowing production lines, allowing employees to work farther apart. Additionally, cleaning crews fog the facilities common areas with disinfectants each weekend and did a deep cleaning over the long Easter weekend.
In tandem with their work place safeguards, West Liberty Foods also provides for lengthy self-quarantines for workers with COVID-19 or exposed to positive cases. If daily temperature checks find a worker has a fever, West Liberty Foods sends them home but pays them for a full day of work and does not count it against their attendance. If a person or any member of their household tests positive for COVID-19, West Liberty Foods requires them to stay home for at least 14 days and continues to pay them according to their leave policy.
Additionally, workers in close contact to a coworker with a confirmed case must stay home for 14 days as well and also receive pay, a stricter policy than even the Center for Disease Control requires. “For essential industries, including food production, CDC guidelines allow workers who have been in contact with infected employees to remain on the job, so long as they remain asymptomatic and wear a face mask,” explained West Liberty Foods Vice President and General Counsel Dan Waters. “Our standards are more stringent than those of the CDC, in that we send a worker home to self-quarantine with pay even if they are asymptomatic, if the worker has been in close proximity to an infected employee.”
Though COVID-19 cases have risen at West Liberty Foods, Waters report that employees typically view the plants’ policies favorably. “Our team members have generally been appreciative of the additional PPE we have provided and the steps we have taken to curb the spread of COVID-19.”