ACROSS AMERICA — A Tyson Foods meatpacking plant in Iowa has fired seven of its top managers, the company said Wednesday, after they reportedly "organized a cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool" last spring to wager on how many employees would test positive for the COVID-19 virus.
The firings come following the disturbing allegation made against the company's meatpacking facility in Waterloo, Iowa. The location is facing legal backlash over a spring outbreak that ultimately infected more than 1,000 of the plant's 2,800 workers, killing at least six and sending many others to the hospital.
In a statement, Tyson Foods President and CEO Dean Banks said the behavior exhibited by the managers "did not represent the Tyson core values."
According to a report by The Associated Press, Banks traveled to the Waterloo plant Wednesday to discuss the actions taken by the company with employees.
At the time of the alleged betting, Tyson was bucking pressure from local officials to shut down the plant as a safety precaution. The company argued that the plant, which processes nearly 20,000 hogs per day, was a vital market for farmers and critical to the nation's meat supply.
The claims were discovered through interviews conducted by the legal team of Mel Orchard, who represents the estates of several Tyson workers killed by the virus.
After the complaints surfaced, Tyson suspended the managers without pay.
As the number of confirmed deaths from the coronavirus hit a new record and the total number of cases in the United States surpassed 17 million, congressional negotiators in Washington are nearing an agreement on a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package.
The proposed aid would deliver additional "paycheck protection" subsidies to businesses, an additional $300 per week to the unemployed, and stimulus payments to most Americans, likely in the amount of $600.
Discussions on the long-delayed measure continued Thursday as leaders from both parties made difficult compromises, mostly at the expense of Democrats.
Leaders also said they will not adjourn for the year until an agreement is in.
"We made major headway toward hammering out a bipartisan relief package," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters Wednesday.
Some states aren't waiting for the federal government to deliver relief.
In New Mexico, leaders stepped in to begin distributing one-time payments of $1,200 to each of the state's 130,000 unemployed residents. The payments are intended to help ease persistent economic hardship in the state, according to a New York Times report.
The United States has a new epicenter for the coronavirus crisis. California on Wednesday recorded 53,711 new cases on its own, according to data from The Washington Post. If California were a country, it would be among the world's leaders in new cases.
As the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech makes its way to hospitals and nursing homes across the country, the one developed by Moderna, nears approval. A Food and Drug Administration panel is meeting Thursday on the possibility of recommending approval of it for emergency use.
Expectations are that the FDA panel will say yes, according to The New York Times and others, and if so, the vaccine could be fully approved by the FDA on Friday.
An FDA committee has already said the Moderna vaccine is "highly protective" against the virus, according to the Times.
Not all who have taken the Pfizer vaccine are reporting positive results.
Health officials in Alaska reported a health care worker had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine within 10 minutes of receiving a shot, according to reporting from The Associated Press.
U.S. health authorities warned doctors to be on the lookout for rare allergic reactions when they rolled out the first vaccine. Britain had reported a few similar allergic reactions a week earlier.
The Juneau health worker began feeling flushed and short of breath on Tuesday, Dr. Lindy Jones, the emergency room medical director at Bartlett Regional Hospital, told the AP. She was treated with epinephrine and other medicines for what officials ultimately determined was anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. She was kept overnight but has recovered.
Meanwhile, a report by researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame released this week paints a picture of how many are struggling amid the pandemic.
In the report, researchers estimate that more than 7.8 million Americans have fallen into poverty in the last five months, an indication of how deeply many are struggling since government aid dwindled.
While overall poverty levels are low by historical standards, the increase in poverty this year has been swift, the report says. In fact, the country has seen its biggest jump in a single year since the government began tracking poverty 60 years ago.
At least 3,367 new coronavirus deaths and 233,651 new daily cases were reported in the United States on Wednesday, according to a Washington Post database. Over the past seven days, the United States has averaged more than 213,000 cases each day.
As of Thursday, 48 states and Puerto Rico remained above the positive testing rate recommended by the World Health Organization to safely reopen. To safely reopen, the WHO recommends states remain at 5 percent or lower for at least 14 days.
The only places that meet that recommendation, as of Thursday, are Vermont, Hawaii and the District of Columbia. Vermont, at 2.09 percent, has the lowest positivity rate in the country.
More than 17.1 million people in the United States had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Thursday afternoon, and more than 309,300 have died, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.