Iowa meat plant worker dies after search to reunite him with his family

Jose Ayala was in intensive care for several weeks after he was diagnosed

Andrew Naughtie
Wednesday 27 May 2020 11:29
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Iowa Sheriff warns of Covid-19 threat to meat plant workers

An employee at a one of the US’s largest pork production plants has died from Covid-19 after a friend led a social media effort to reunite him with his family before he passed away.

The deceased man has been named as 44-year-old Jose Ayala, a worker at the Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo, Iowa. The plant is the main employer in Black Hawk County, which has recorded some 1,700 coronavirus cases and 40 deaths. Many of them were linked to the plant, and the local sheriff called for it to be shut down in late April.

Operations were soon stopped, but resumed a few weeks later after the company put plexiglass screens and temperature scanners in place to try to protect workers.

Mr Ayala was reportedly hospitalised and put on a ventilator in mid-April, at which point his co-worker Zach Medhaug mounted a social media search to contact Mr Ayala’s family in Laredo, Texas, more than 1,200 miles away.

After a Facebook post that he said received more than 15,000 shares, Mr Medhaug succeeded in his search and was able to connect Mr Ayala with his family before he took a turn for the worse.

Mr Medhaug remembered his colleague in a message on his own Facebook profile: “Jose is a good man. His story is always the same, he is an amazing friend. He could always make everyone in the room smile. He would do anything for anyone. During this trying time his family has treated me like one of their own. Our group of friends have been so supportive.

“Today Jose has gone in peace to be with his mother. May you Rest In Peace my friend.”

Meanwhile, a Tyson Foods spokesperson told CNN that “We are deeply saddened by the loss of any Tyson team member and are keeping the family in our thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.”

The US has seen significant outbreaks of coronavirus in many of its meat-production plants, causing major concern for a food supply chain that relies on a small number of large facilities to produce many of its animal products.

Donald Trump in late April signed an executive order directing the Department of Agriculture to do everything it can to keep the American meat industry open; the White House pointed out that closing a single beef production plant could cost 10 million servings of beef in a single day, while halting livestock processing “could force millions of pounds of meat to disappear from the market, potentially leading to long-term disruptions in our supply chain”.

However, meat processing plants across the country are still facing major problems with the virus. One Tyson plant in North Carolina this week reported that one in four of its workers has tested positive.

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