Anxiety For Workers And Families As Packing Plant Work Resumes


By Joey Aguirre, courtesy of Iowa Starting Line 

The human element is getting lost among the testing and unemployment data of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alexa Zarate and her family are getting the full experience.


Zarate is a senior at Perry High School with parents recovering from COVID-19. Her father is almost 60 years old and works at the Tyson plant in Perry, where there was 730 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Three weeks ago, her father appeared to be tiring more easily, with chest and back pains. Meanwhile, her mother was suffering from similar pains and losing her sense of taste and smell.

After being tested at the Tyson plant, Zarate says her father was still waiting to hear his test results from a Tyson representative two weeks later.


“It’s been two weeks and we still haven’t heard anything,” Zarate said mid-last week. “Other people within his department have said the same thing. They didn’t call him to tell him how he tested, but they called him to let him know he can return to work.”

The test results for Alexa’s mother were positive. She assumes her father’s test was too and both were temporarily laid off.


“The doctor said if they were better three days after being diagnosed, then they would be passed the worst of the virus,” Zarate says.

Her father is expecting to go back to work today.



Bring Your Own Mask


Before her parents started suffering from back and chest pains, Zarate worked in a nursing home and tested negative for COVID-19. But since she was exposed to the coronavirus, Alexa was forced to quarantine herself.

In a matter of minutes, nobody in the house was healthy or had a job.

“It all happened so fast for me,” Zarate says. “School first, then my mom and dad got sick at the same time. The world stopped for me.”

During her quarantine, she remembers feeling “mad” about how people and businesses were treating COVID-19, not taking the precautions seriously. She says Tyson was part of the problem, requiring her dad to bring his own mask to work.

He used a bandana before getting a cloth face cover from the city of Perry.

“My dad is nearly 60 and putting his life at risk,” Zarate says. “And I’m not very hopeful that Tyson does much to help when they get back. It’s concerning, because they made workers buy masks themselves.”

Zarate says Tyson is offering $500 bonuses for employees that return to work after testing positive for COVID-19.

“My dad, he’s anxious about what it will be like when he goes back to work,” Zarate says.

Zarate said her mother is planning on going back to work, but still doesn’t have her sense of taste or smell back, and she still suffers headaches.


Responding to State Data


Data released on Tuesday by the Iowa Department of Public Health confirmed the 730 positive COVID-19 tests at the Tyson meatpacking plant in Perry. That same data showed that in Waterloo, the Tyson plant has 444 confirmed COVID-19 tests (though the actual, local numbers are over 1,000) and the Tyson plant in Columbus Junction has 221 positive COVID-19 tests.

The Tyson Waterloo plant reopened last Thursday with limited production. Last Wednesday, Tyson issued a press release saying it has partnered with Matrix Medical Network to establish an on-site clinic for daily screenings and testing. According to the release, facial coverings will be provided to each employee at the Waterloo plant.

“I’m advocating as much as possible,” Zarate says. “It’s not just our life to worry about, but we need to be aware of how we can impact other people. It can easily be taken away.”

As of Monday morning, Dallas County has 701 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Polk County is reporting 2,368 confirmed cases, according to There have been 271 deaths in Iowa due to the Coronavirus.

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