Tyson Foods has yet another massive coronavirus outbreak at one of its meat processing plants: Almost 600 workers and contractors employed at its North Carolina chicken processing complex have tested positive for COVID-19 just a week after slowing production to a crawl.
Tyson, one of the U.S.’ largest producers and marketers of chicken, beef, and pork, said Wednesday that 570 of its 2,244 workers at their Wilkesboro, North Carolina, complex have been diagnosed with the deadly respiratory disease, forcing the company to shut down operations at two of the complex’s three processing plants for deep cleaning. Last Friday, the company severely limited production to begin testing at the site. The North Carolina location is one of 30 Tyson complexes where the company is rolling out tests for all workers. The company has seen similar massive outbreaks, in the hundreds of cases, at its meat processing plants in Pasco, Washington; Madison, Nebraska; and Waterloo, Iowa
Tyson said that 237 tests were conducted by the state’s Department of Health or local healthcare providers, while the remaining 2,007 were conducted on-site between May 6 and May 9. Though they didn’t provide an exact figure, they say a majority of the employees who tested positive were asymptomatic.
Last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to compel meat production companies like Tyson to remain open so as to avoid food shortages, but the tight conditions in these plants make workers particularly susceptible to the virus. To ensure the safety of its employees, has erected physical barriers between employee workstations, provided masks, and enforced social distancing measures.
Employees who test positive at the Wilkesboro plant will be provided paid leave as they head into quarantine and are being asked to remain at home until their health meets the CDC's and Tyson’s standards.
“We are working closely with local health departments to protect our team members and their families, and to help manage the spread of the virus in our communities,” said Senior Vice President of Health and Safety for Tyson Foods Tom Brower on Wednesday. “We are using the most up-to-date data and resources to support our team members, and we are committed to ensuring they feel safe and secure when they come to work.”
U.S. meat plants have become particularly problematic clusters of coronavirus outbreaks, thanks to cluttered and cramped work conditions where employees are often working in close proximity. Just under half of the outbreaks at the country’s 25 COVID-19 hotspots have been linked to meat processing plants, according to the Guardian. Outbreaks aren’t the only issue facing the industry either. Last month, Tyson chairman John Tyson warned that the effects of slowed production at meats plants around the country will likely be felt at local grocery stores, though it may not be a reason to panic just yet.
Cover: In this May 7, 2020, file photo, workers leave the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Logansport, Ind. The plant closed April 25 after nearly 900 employees tested positive for the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)