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A federal appeals court has ruled that Tyson Foods can’t claim it was operating under the direction of the federal government when it tried to keep its processing plants open as the coronavirus spread rapidly within them during the early days of the pandemic.

So the Des Moines Register reports that a lawsuit filed by several families of four workers who died after contracting COVID-19 while working at Tyson’s pork processing plant in Waterloo will be heard in state court. The families allege that Tyson’s actions contributed to the deaths.

Tyson had sought to move the case to federal court because it said federal officials wanted it to keep its plants running. The company cited an executive order former President Donald Trump signed that designated meat processors as essential infrastructure.

“The fact that an entity — such as a meat processor — is subject to pervasive federal regulation alone is not sufficient to confer federal jurisdiction,” Judge Jane Kelly wrote in the decision.

The court also noted that Trump’s order was signed in late April 2020 after many of its workers were infected. More than 1,000 Tyson workers at the Waterloo plant tested positive for the virus that spring and at least six died.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the Springdale, Arkansas-based company is disappointed in the court ruling, but he defended the steps Tyson took to keep workers safe during the pandemic.

“We’re saddened by the loss of any of our team members to COVID-19 and are committed to protecting the health and safety of our people,” Mickelson said. “We’ve implemented a host of protective measures in our facilities and in 2021 required all of our U.S. team members to be vaccinated.”

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