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Judge: Tyson not shielded by order keeping meatpackers open

Associated Press

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FILE - In this April 2020 photo provided by Tyson Foods, workers wear protective masks and stand between plastic dividers at the company's Camilla, Ga., poultry processing plant. (Tyson Foods via AP)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A federal judge has rejected an argument by Tyson Foods that is is not liable in the death of a worker in Iowa because it was following federal guidance when it kept meatpacking plants open during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tyson was sued in August by the family of Isidro Fernandez, who worked at the company’s plant in Waterloo, after he died April 26 from complications of COVID-19.

More than 1,000 Tyson workers tested positive for the virus in May and at least six died. The families of Fernandez and at least three other employees who died claim in lawsuits that the company was negligent in how it reacted to the pandemic.

Tyson fired seven managers in December after an investigation found that supervisors held a betting pool on how many employees would test positive for COVID-19.

The Fernandez case was filed in state court but was moved at Tyson’s request to federal court after the company claimed it was following the direction of federal officials, including President Donald Trump, when it remained open in April.

But on Monday, U.S. District Judge Linda Reade rejected the argument, saying Trump’s order naming meatpacking producers as essential infrastructure wasn’t signed until April 28, two days after Fernandez died and well after he contracted COVID-19, The Des Moines Register reported.

Reade also wrote that no federal official directed Tyson to keep its Waterloo plant open “in a negligent manner (failing to provide employees with personal protective equipment, failing to implement adequate social distancing measures, failing to implement adequate safety measures related to the coronavirus) or make fraudulent misrepresentations to employees at the Waterloo facility” about the danger posed by the pandemic.

The order sends the Fernandez case back to Black Hawk County district court.

State health officials reported 2,132 additional COVID-19 cases during the 24 hours ending at 11 a.m. Friday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 282,439. Iowa also reported 3,893 deaths, up seven from the previous day.

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