Workers, officials say too little too late after Tyson closes Waterloo pork plant: 'All they talked about was production'

The Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Waterloo, Iowa, has a workforce of nearly 3,000.

(CNN)After more than a week of public pressure, Tyson announced Wednesday morning it will "indefinitely suspend operations" at its Waterloo, Iowa, pork processing plant that employs 2,800 people. However, workers and some officials say the halt comes too late.

Almost half of Black Hawk County, Iowa's Covid-19 cases are connected to the plant, according to the county health department. As of Tuesday, there were 182 cases linked to the plant. Wednesday, the county reported 379 total cases.
In a statement, Tyson told CNN the plant, which is the company's largest pork plant, had already "been running at reduced levels of production due to worker absenteeism."
    "Despite our continued efforts to keep our people safe while fulfilling our critical role of feeding American families, the combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns has resulted in our decision to stop production," said Tyson Fresh Meats Group President Steve Stouffer in the statement.
    In an interview with CNN's Erin Burnett on Thursday, Dean Banks, the president of Tyson, didn't address specific allegations employees made in this article.
    "We're doing everything we can to make sure we take care of our team members," Banks said.
    "What we've seen is that our plants live within a community," Banks said.
    "From everything we've seen, the spread of the disease in the community is affecting us in the plant," he said.
    Tyson was "extremely early in providing as many protective measures as we could possibly imagine," Banks said.
    "The vast majority of our plants have no cases," he said.
    CNN spoke to three employees who work in the facility but did not want to be named for fear of losing their jobs. They describe conditions and priorities that are at odds with statements given by Tyson and the state's governor, Kim Reynolds, who said they were taking care of their employees.
    "You know what's heading this way," one plant employee, a cut floor worker, explained to CNN. "Why wait? Why wait 'til it's too late?"
    The cut floor worker said he's grateful to local officials for continuing to pressure the company to shutter the factory, but he took umbrage with the reasons Tyson offered for doing so.
    "Complaining about worker absenteeism as workers have died is even more distasteful than their claim workers are their first priority," he told CNN on Wednesday.
    Local officials said they are relieved but still deeply concerned.
    "This will relieve future issues with our outbreak and slow the spread now (hopefully)," said Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson.
    However, Thompson -- who, as the chairman of the emergency management commission, oversees the county's coronavirus response -- also said the move is "a little too late for our deaths and the hundreds already infected."
    "The damage is done," Thomspon said Tuesday night, before the closure was announced. "The cows are out of the barn, they're down the road, we can't get them back. We can't fix it. All we can do is react to the problems they've created for us."
    "What we've seen is that our plants live within a community," Banks said.
    "From everything we've seen, the spread of the disease in the community is affecting us in the plant."
    "The vast majority of our plants have no cases," Banks claimed.
    Tyson said that "for the privacy of our team members we are not disclosing numbers of confirmed cases in our facilities."
    Tyson will close its biggest pork plant after workers call out sick with coronavirus