Tyson Foods Inc. has announced a temporary shutdown of part of its chicken processing complex in Wilkesboro and reduced operations of another portion “to carry out additional deep cleaning due to a combination of positive COVID-19 cases and team member absences related to quarantine and other factors.”

As of today (Friday) and continuing through Monday, the Tyson fresh plant two (main portion of the fresh plant) is idled and fresh plant one (where chickens are harvested) is operating on a limited basis, said Derek Burleson, Tyson public relations manager. Burleson said the food service plant is running as normal.

This is a revision of the announcement Tyson made Thursday evening concerning reduced operations at the complex for deep cleaning. The fresh plant was also closed this past weekend and Monday for deep cleaning.

“The health and safety of our team members, their families and communities is our top priority, and we continue to take all precautions to protect them,” stated the Tyson press release.

The release said Tyson has been working closely with local health officials and completed COVID-19 testing of processing plant employees and contractors at the complex in Wilkesboro.

“Tyson will share verified test results with health and government officials, team members and other stakeholders once complete data is available as part of our efforts to help communities where we operate better understand the coronavirus and the protective measures that can be taken to help prevent its spread,” the release stated.

Burleson said the test results referenced are those for COVID-19 tests using nasal swab samples collected from employees at the complex in Wilkesboro last week by Matrix Medical Network after the Wilkes Health Department collected nasal swab samples from 200 employees there for testing on May 4.

Thursday evening, he said Tyson is still awaiting results from the majority of the testing conducted by Matrix.

Wilkes County government officials said nearly 20% of the tests conducted on 200 Tyson employees on May 4 came back positive.

The Tyson press release also stated, “When operations resume, team members at Tyson’s Wilkesboro facility will have access to additional testing, daily clinical symptom screenings, nurse practitioners and enhanced education. These programs are in addition to a host of protective measures Tyson has put in place that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing COVID-19.

“Tyson has put in place enhanced safety precautions and installed protective social distancing measures throughout our plants, including in the Wilkesboro facility, and taken steps to support our team members at this time.

Statement from 2 towns

A press release sent Thursday afternoon by North Wilkesboro Town Manager Wilson Hooper, which he said was sent on behalf of North Wilkesboro, Wilkesboro and Ronda, repeated some of the information in the Tyson press release and also said the three towns “acknowledge the steps Tyson has taken to minimize the risk of transmission within its facilities, and protect the health of its employees.”

Hooper’s release also stated, “Some of the newly diagnosed cases were found in asymptomatic individuals, meaning they have potentially carried the virus into the community where it can spread via community transmission. Because of this risk, the three towns would like to remind residents that all of Wilkes County remains under a modified stay-at-home order as outlined in Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 138. Violations of this order are punishable as a Class 2 misdemeanor.”

Hooper’s press release continued, “Permitted activities notwithstanding, the three towns strongly encourage residents stay at home to the fullest extent possible. No resident should participate in any public activity that is not essential to life, health, or safety. If residents must go out in public, the local governments insist that they follow the three Ws: wear a mask, wait six feet apart, wash hands frequently.

“As they are entitled to do per the language of the executive order, the Wilkes municipalities may consider additional public safety measures in response to this news and the area’s recent spike in cases. Local trends DO NOT meet Governor Cooper’s or the White House’s guidelines for reopening.

“Since an individual can carry the virus unknowingly and spread it via community transmission, going out in public does more than put the individual at risk. Going out in public risks exposing others to the virus, and they in turn can expose others. One transmission can spread exponentially throughout the community. Therefore, the county and towns plead with all Wilkes County residents to keep the health of their neighbors in mind, act in good faith, and stay at home as much as possible.”

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