Testing takes place at AgriStar May 5

The Allamakee County Emergency Management Agency and the AgriStar meat processing facility in Postville released a joint statement last week regarding selective COVID-19 testing completed at the AgriStar facility Tuesday, May 5. That May 5 testing was conducted at AgriStar in cooperation with the Iowa Department of Public Health and other State of Iowa agencies.

According to the release, AgriStar had requested the testing in April but was unable to have testing done until early May due to testing being conducted in other facilities across the state of Iowa with much larger employee populations and a considerable number of initial positive cases being reported at those facilities. The May 5 testing was requested as an additional step in the plant’s efforts to protect its employees and ensure its ability to continue operations, and the testing is not part of the Test Iowa Initiative.

The released statement reveals that over 400 employees of the facility were tested and all testing was voluntary with the first results from that Tuesday testing not really showing up in Allamakee County case or testing numbers until 10 cases were reported out of 201 tests Sunday, May 10. The release says that employees were tested to see if they currently may have the COVID-19 virus or if they have had it in the past. The test results will now allow AgriStar to determine their employees’ health status and to assess any additional preventative measure efforts that may need to be taken in protecting its workforce health while maintaining critical operations in the country’s food chain, according to additional information contained within the jointly released statement.

Although positive test results from that target testing have been reported on the State of Iowa coronavirus website as they become available, no further information beyond those reported case numbers is being made available by the agency at this time. What is known is that the initial percentage of the increased test results this past week in Allamakee County that tested positive for COVID-19 hovered in the five percent area, well below the 10% threshold the Iowa Department of Public Health has used as a measuring stick to implement any further measures following previous targeted testing in other meat packing facilities.

Several AgriStar employees commented on The Standard’s initial social media post regarding the May 5 testing, relaying their insight into the additional measures facility leadership has been taking at the plant in regard to the COVID-19 outbreak. Among those employees was Diane Guerrero, who has been employed at AgriStar since 2008 and serves as Director of Human Resources/Health Safety/IT and Security, and, in addition to posting this comment also shared the same information with The Postville Herald newspaper.

“AgriStar has been following CDC recommendations since earlier in the year,” Guerrero commented. “The company has been complimented on its efforts. Team members who work there have seen all the precautions implemented. Despite the time spent educating team members, handing out additional PPE (personal protective equipment), modifying schedules, practicing social distancing, temping, risk assessing, and so much more... people could still be carriers of the virus.

“Testing is a positive step requested weeks in advance. There is much coordinating needed to make it happen. Supporting the plant would be so much more beneficial than all the negative comments. When I enter the plant, I see masks on people, temperatures being taken, guidelines on floors, digital signage sharing all kinds of COVID-related info (in multiple languages), line spacing, table barriers, additional rest areas, hand sanitizers everywhere, custodial crews; I even see signs asking employees not to leave Postville unless they need food/supplies.

“I got tested for COVID-19. I feel fine. I sanitize in and out of my house, my car... I sanitize in the gas station, Walmart, grocery stores. I wipe cart handles, wear a mask so often I’ve got bruising on my nose... I could be negative. I might be positive. Who should I blame if I’m positive? Could’ve been anyone who touched a handle just before me, or coughed in my direction... it could’ve been one of you, positive without even knowing it. Wouldn’t it be great if we asked what more we could do to help those critical infrastructures stay open and healthy rather than pass along negativity?”

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