WILKESBORO, N.C. — Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest food companies, has revealed the scale of the novel coronavirus outbreak at its poultry plant in Wilkesboro.
Facility-wide testing found that 570 people out of the plant’s 2,244-strong workforce were positive for COVID-19, the majority of whom “did not show any symptoms and otherwise would not have been identified,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.
Most of the workers were tested at the facility from May 6 to May 9, while 237 were either tested by the local health department or through their own health care providers. Those who test positive receive paid leave and may return to work only when they meet the criteria established by both Tyson and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Our team members are essential to helping to feed the nation, and their health and safety is always our first priority,” Kevin Taylor, complex manager for the Wilkesboro facility, said in a statement Wednesday. “Disclosing our testing results will help better protect our team members and help provide the wider Wilkesboro community with the information it needs to stop the spread of the virus.”
A work told Channel 9′s Dave Faherty that he has undergone several tests at the plant and has bought an extra layer of protection when he returns to his job. His biggest concerns are the hundreds of people who have tested positive but are asymptomatic.
“That’s scarier when you’re asymptomatic because you’re not feeling sick and running around here exposing yourself to other people," the worker said.
The Wilkesboro facility is among an initial group of more than 30 production facilities in the United States where Tyson is rolling out advanced testing capabilities and enhanced care options on-site to team members, according to Wednesday’s news release.
Production at the facility has begun to ramp up after operations there were limited last week to carry out additional deep cleaning. Plants were shut down for several days at a time over the last two weeks to sanitize.
Tyson said it has put in place a range of protective steps to prevent the spread of the virus, including symptom screenings for all workers before every shift, providing mandatory protective face masks to all employees as well as physical barriers between workstations and in break rooms, among other social distancing measures. Workers also have access to on-site nurse practitioners, according to the company.
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“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,” Tom Brower, senior vice president of health and safety for Tyson Foods, said in a statement. “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.”
Tyson said it has also put in place a host of protective steps that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing COVID-19. These include symptom screenings for all team members before every shift, providing mandatory protective face masks to all team members, as well as a range of social distancing measures including physical barriers between workstations and in break rooms.
Tyson Foods said it has increased short-term disability coverage to 90% of normal pay until June 30 to encourage team members to stay home when they are sick. The company also has doubled its “thank you” bonus for its frontline workers. Team members who cannot come to work because of illness or childcare issues related to COVID-19 will continue to qualify.
Wilkesboro residents believe the company needs to do more.
“I understand that they are trying to protect the employees and everything but when the numbers get that high I think they should have shutdown for a week or two,” resident Carman Johnson said.
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