Published Wednesday, May 20, 2020
BY ART CULLEN
We would almost say we are grateful that testing for COVID-19 finally hit Buena Vista County, long after the virus did. Grateful is not quite the right word. Grateful that the government finally got around to its mandated public health responsibilities? Relieved is more like it. Grateful would not express our anger and disappointment. We have known about this deadly virus since January, at least.
As it turns out, the government is not entirely fulfilling its obligation to protect public health. Tyson Foods is conducting the tests on its workforce by hiring a medical consulting company that parked a mobile site at the human resources office on Flindt Drive. Its team will be in Storm Lake all week, at least, testing and educating workers, and contact tracing. Tyson has dispatched the teams to several communities where it has plants. It says something when basic public health care functions are assumed by a meatpacking company.
It is good news nonetheless that Storm Lake and Buena Vista County will get some notion of where we stand with the pandemic. In the absence of testing, just a handful of cases were reported until the past couple weeks. Last week, the curve started heading north. By the weekend it was over 100. In Perry, where there were virtually no cases, testing revealed at least 730 in short order, or 58% of the workforce at the Tyson pork plant.
Of course we hope the same is not true here. Our complaint is that because of the fumbling response by health authorities, starting with the President, we have been operating in the dark and without a clear plan. Knowledge gives us the power to change the course of the virus. It helps us learn how to manage it. It instructs industry on how to arrange itself for everyone’s safety and stability. Now we will know, and respond more intelligently.
We are eager to hear the results: how many were tested, how many were positive, where they are clustered, and how many contacts have been made for new tests. This is all information that is crucial to public understanding and response that can ease anxieties and put us on a manageable path forward.
The pandemic has exposed so many gaping holes in our social safety net, from health care to preparedness to food security. Perhaps nothing is more glaring than our mistreatment of immigrants. They are marching into work on the President’s order where it may be safe or deadly — they don’t know. They have been branded as a class to be marauders and leeches, and certainly a threat to our culture. We have locked down the borders to contain a disease that already is within blowing distance of your nose, and which did not come to us from Mexico. We probably spread the disease south of the border.
We deny them due process. We lock them in cages. We separate children from mothers. We deny them access to health care. They have no union, no PAC, no voice. They roof the house and lay the sod and work in the nursing home. Even those with documents fear being swept up. They fear going to the doctor.
They are not freeloaders. They are not incubating the disease at home and bringing it into work. They are not infesters. They are your neighbors. If they are safe, you are safer. If they are not afraid of police, they help solve cases and crime goes down. If they are not afraid of the clinic, public health improves.
If these brave men and women are willing to put their lives on the line to provide our food and lovingly care for your grandmother, they deserve a fair shake and a little respect. Those who are waiting for naturalization deserve for it to proceed. If we expect people to respect the process, it must be provided to them. If we want integrated, vibrant communities we must acknowledge how much we need immigrants. Storm Lake does. It is doing its level best. Still, the pandemic reveals how many hurdles we have to overcome as a rural community bucking uphill. The November elections offer an opportunity to clear those hurdles once and for all.