DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa’s public health leaders aren’t disputing the data in front of them.
Speaking on Iowa minorities, Sarah Reisetter, Deputy Director for the Iowa Department of Public Health said, “We have a larger number of those populations that work in businesses that have not been ordered to close at this time such as food manufacturing businesses.”
On Wednesday, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health, Latinos make up 17.3% of all positive COVID-19 cases and African-Americans make up 9.2 percent. When looking at the U.S. Census data Latinos are just 6.2% of Iowa’s population and African Americans are at 4%. “This is urgent in our community, urgent for our immigrants and urgent for Iowans,” said Rafael Moratoya of the Center for Worker Justice.
A week ago, Tyson Foods in Columbus Junction shut down after workers tested positive. On Tuesday 86 more were diagnosed with Covid-19. Moratoya shared a story of an Iowan who works at a similar plant. “For weeks after national emergency he worked with coworkers who were coughing everyday in break room the sink ran out of soap. There were no mask and no temperature checks,” said Moratoya.
Maria Gonzalez of Marshalltown shared another, “She was told not to go in sick however they will only be paid if their results for Coronavirus came back positive. So, you still having people going into work sick because they can’t stay home.”
On Wednesday, through an online video conference, over seventy groups made up of immigrants’ rights, faith and labor organizations signed a petition and urged Governor Kim Reynolds to do more and hold all Iowa employers to CDC and OSHA Covid-19 procedures to prevent exposure. “Ensure all exposed workers have access to medical care and emergency assistance regardless of health insurance coverage or immigration status,” said Vanessa Marcano-Kelly of AFSC Iowa.
National Beef’s Iowa Premium plant in Tama is also shut down through April 20th because of Covid-19. “If the supply of meat in our country is limited because we didn’t take proactive steps then it is having long lasting impact on the iowa economy,” Erica Johnson of AFSC Iowa. She added, “People are afraid of going to work because their employers fail to follow basic measures to protect their workers from Covid-19.”
The group says if these workers are doing essential level work for Iowans, they need to see the Governor demand that level of care and protection in return. “Remember, workers may be essential but they are never, ever expendable,” said Charlie Wishman of the Iowa Federation of Labor.