Tyson Foods Inc. has announced results of facility-wide testing for COVID-19 at its poultry processing complex in Wilkesboro.
Tyson stated in a press release Wednesday afternoon that of 2,244 employees and contractors who work at the complex and were tested, 570 (25.4%) tested positive for COVID-19.
The majority of the 570 didn’t show any symptoms and otherwise would not have been identified, the company stated.
These 570 include Wilkes County residents and people who live outside the county, while Wilkes County's confirmed COVID-19 case totals reported each day only include Wilkes residents. The total Wednesday was 451.
Around half of about 3,000 people who work at the Tyson processing complex in Wilkesboro live outside Wilkes, said Derek Burleson, Tyson public relations manager.
The 2,244 people referenced in the press release include 200 tested on May 4 by the Wilkes County Health Department, 37 tested by their own health care providers and 2,007 tested onsite by Matrix Medical from May 6-9. Matrix is a medical clinical services company.
Tyson employees who test positive receive paid leave and may return to work only when they meet criteria established by Tyson and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the release said.
The Wilkesboro facility is among an initial group of more than 30 Tyson production facilities nationwide where Tyson is rolling out advanced testing capabilities and enhanced care options on-site to employees in partnership with Matrix and other partners.
“The company is prioritizing communities with a higher prevalence of COVID-19 and will assess additional needs based on significant risk factors and access to testing,” the release stated.
The release said that as Tyson is doing at the Wilkesboro complex, it will disclose verified test results at other plants to health and government officials, employees and stakeholders as part of its efforts to help affected communities where it operates better understand the coronavirus and protective measures that can help prevent its spread.
“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 Tom Brower, senior vice president of health and safety for Tyson Foods. “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.”
Employees at Tyson’s Wilkesboro complex have access to daily clinical symptom screenings, nurse practitioners and enhanced education.
The release said Axiom Medical, a health care case management provider, will also track symptoms of employees who test positive and provide additional care.
It said production has begun to ramp up at portions of the Wilkesboro complex where operations were limited recently to carry out additional deep cleaning.
The release cited numerous protective steps put in place by Tyson that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing COVID-19. These include symptom screenings for all employees before every shift, providing mandatory protective face masks to all employees and social distancing measures such as physical barriers between workstations and in break rooms.
“Our team members are essential to helping to feed the nation, and their health and safety is always our first priority,” said Kevin Taylor, manager of the Tyson complex in Wilkesboro.
“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.”
Tyson Foods increased short-term disability coverage to 90% of normal pay until June 30 to encourage team members to stay home when they’re sick. The company 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.