Wilkes Co. Tyson Foods plant to limit operations following COVID-19 outbreak

Updated: May. 14, 2020 at 5:40 PM EDT
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WILKES COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - The massive Tyson Foods Chicken Processing complex in Wilkesboro will scale back operations for the next five days as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak.

There are three plants operating within the complex and two will be shut down for cleaning.

The Fresh Plant One facility was closed last weekend for cleaning but it reopened on Tuesday.

Under the latest moves by Tyson, Fresh Plant One will stay open but will operate on a limited basis, for now.

Fresh Plant Two and the Foodservice Plant will cease operations starting Friday until next week so it too can receive a deep cleaning.

Officials with the company say that they have so many people staying home from work.

Company policy has required that all those testing positive or feeling sick be isolated at home.

“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,” Tyson Foods said in a statement.

Tyson Foods in Wilkes County made the decision to temporarily limit operations at its Wilkesboro poultry processing facility in order to sanitize, clear and keep its staff and the public safe.

The order is due to a combination of positive COVID-19 cases and team member absences related to quarantine and other factors, the facility said.

On Wednesday, officials said that most of the nearly 300 coronavirus cases in Wilkes County are linked to the Tyson Foods plant.

The Wilkes County Health Department released new data Wednesday, confirming that the county currently has 264 positive cases. Most are linked to the Tyson Foods plant.

Tyson has completed testing of all team members. Tyson is requiring all team members to have a negative test or be without symptoms if the test is not available before returning to work. In addition, Tyson performed deep cleaning at the plant on May 9-11.

“We are all concerned about this significant increase in positive cases,” said Wilkes County Manager John Yates. “Our top priority is the health and safety of all residents and visitors to Wilkes County, including those who work and play here. We are working closely with local, state and regional partners to address the numbers and ensure we take care of everyone impacted.”

Wilkes County health officials say they are working closely with Tyson to ensure all those who tested positive follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in order to protect their family, friends and coworkers and stop the transmission. Along with this guidance, officials say Wilkes Health speaks daily to the plant regarding employee health and any new recommendations that are developed, and work with plant leaders to identify a process to manage confirmed cases and close contacts to cases.

In addition, the Health Department, State Strike Team for COVID-19, and CDC visited Tyson Wednesday to look for ways to help with mitigation and prevention moving forward.

If a confirmed case is identified, the employee is told to self-isolate for ten days and 72 hours post fever, whichever is longer. The plant will also send home those who are considered close contacts to a positive case with instructions to self-monitor symptoms and to call a medical professional if symptoms develop.

Tyson Foods is working with Matrix Medical Network to provide its front-line workers with health-care services.

The Wilkes County Health Department offers regular notifications regarding cases and other information. These updates are available on the website.

Tyson Foods says it 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, including:

· Wellness health screening of all team members each time they arrive at the facility, checking for symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath in addition to continuing use of the infrared thermometers to check temperatures.

· The supply of protective facial coverings to every team member and requiring they are worn.

· The use of face shields for team members where workstation barriers cannot physically be implemented.

· Additional dedicated social distance monitors stationed throughout the facility during all shifts to help ensure team members adhere to safety protocols and social distancing requirements.

· Increased short-term disability coverage to 90% of normal pay until June 30 to encourage team members to stay home when they are sick

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