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How a Mexican restaurant in Iowa survived a major coronavirus outbreak

An outbreak of covid-19 at a Tyson meat processing plant in Columbus Junction turned an Iowa county one of the nation's coronavirus hotspots. It was a life and death fight for María del Carmen Castellanos and her husband Salvador Ortega, the owners of the Mexican restaurant 'Antojitos Carmen.' (Read full story)
3 Jun 2020 – 11:53 AM EDT
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Carmen and Salvador with staff outside Antonjitos Carmen, before the Covid-19 outbreak disrupted their lives. Crédito: Courtesy of Antojitos Carmen.
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Antojitos Carmen, is a popular Mexican restaurant in Columbus Junction, a small town of 2,000 residents in southeastern Iowa. Crédito: Courtesy of Real America with Jorge Ramos.
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An aerial view of Tyson Foods meat packing plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa. Crédito: Courtesy of Real America with Jorge Ramos.
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Main St in Columbus Junction, Iowa. Crédito: Courtesy of Real America with Jorge Ramos.
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The main street of Columbus Junction, Iowa in a file photo from the 19th century. Courtesy of Frank Best.
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Carmen Castellanos preparing meals for delivery at Antojitos Carmen in Columbus Junction, Iowa. Crédito: Courtesy of Real America with Jorge Ramos.
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Carmen Castellanos peeling an onion in the kitchen at Antojitos Carmen in Columbus Junction, Iowa. She is proud of her roots in Michoacan, Mexico, famous for the annual migration of the monarch butterfly, which she has tattooed on her arm. Crédito: Courtesy of Real America with Jorge Ramos.
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Salvador Ortega (Eng)
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Salvador Ortega and María del Carmen Castellanos. Crédito: Courtesy of the family.
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Carmen and Salvador on the day of their marriage 42 years ago, on February 18, 1978. "He is my other half. He's been my co-worker all my life, always together wherever we go. Because he has always supported me in what I like to do: cooking," says Carmen. Crédito: Courtesy of the family.
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Before coronavirus, the Antojitos Carmen restaurant in Columbus Junction, Iowa was always packed, especially at weekends, offering traditional Mexican dishes. Many of its clients work at the Tyson meat packing plant. Crédito: Courtesy of Antojitos Carmen.
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After opening on Main Street, Antojitos Carmen quickly became one of the most popular places in Columbus Junction, inspired by the successful restaurant of the same name Carmen Castellanos created in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. Courtesy of Antojitos Carmen.
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Salvador Ortega, 62, spent nearly seven weeks in hospital battling covid-19, as the virus attacked three generations of his family in the small town of Columbus Junction, whose main source of income comes from the meat-processing industry. Crédito: Courtesy of the Ortega-Castellanos family.
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Maria Gomez, 34, was brought to Iowa from Guanajuato, Mexico, as a child and was abadnoned by her father. She is a now a member of the Columbus district school board and her husband is a former meat packing worker who still needs physical therapy for the years he spent working in the Tyson plant. In the photo with her two daughters. Crédito: Courtesy of Maria Gomez.
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Before the coronavirus struck conditons in the meat packing plants were very different with workers standing in close proximity to eachother. Crédito: Archive photo, Tyson Foods.
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Tyson says it has taken “protective social distancing measures” to meet the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That includes temperature checks before every shift, face shields and plexiglass workstation barriers. Crédito: Tyson Foods.
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The Tyson plant in Columbus Junction was closed for two weeks. On April 28, President Donald Trump issued an executive order deeming meatpacking facilities "critical infrastructure,” to ensure the nation’s meat supply, requirin g them to stay open. After production resumed at the Columbus Junction plant on April 21 it has since returned full capacity. Workers say condirtons have improved and the number of covid-19 cases has dropped significantly. In photo, new safety measures at the Columbus Junction plant, include protective barriers between work stations. Crédito: Tyson Foods.
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Salvador Ortega, 62, waiting to leave Iowa University Hospital after 47 days of treatment for covid-19, May 29, 2020. Crédito: Courtesy of the family.
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