212 Workers At Madison Tyson Foods Plant Test Positive for COVID-19 After Closure

May 12, 2020 - 6:28pm

Tyson Foods has announced 212 employees at the company's meat processing plant in Madison have tested positive for COVID-19. 74 of those workers had no symptoms of the virus. 


The announcement comes after the company recently closed the plant to deep clean and test all 1,476 of its workers. The facility reopened this week on a limited production schedule.

According to company officials, employees were screened through mass testing funded by the company and referrals from local healthcare providers, with roughly half of the plant's cases identified through each. Most of the workers tested through local healthcare providers have reportedly recovered from the illness, though Tyson did not specify how many.

Tom Brower, Senior Vice President of Health and Safety at Tyson wrote in a statement that mass testing has allowed the plant to restart operation in a safer manner.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of our team members, and we appreciate the collaboration and support of Elkhorn Logan Valley Public Health Department as we provided testing and took steps to complement our existing prevention efforts,” Brower wrote.

“As we learn more about this virus, we continue to do everything we can to protect our team members and ensure they feel safe and secure when they come to work. We’re proud of our Tyson team members and are supporting them with the most up-to-date information and resources to take care of their health.”

Brower added the company has implemented extensive COVID-19 policies that "meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing COVID-19".

Gina Uhing, Health Director at the Elkhorn Logan Valley Public Health Department wrote in the same statement that their implementation contributed to the plant's "low overall infection rate". 

Workers who tested positive will not have access to sick pay. But the company said it will help employees apply for short-term disability to "encourage workers to stay home when they are sick." Any short term disability taken will cover up to 90% of a worker's typical paychecks until June 30th.

Employees who are still working will also have "access to daily clinical symptom screenings, nurse practitioners and enhanced education" in addition to continued mandatory face masks. While workers will still have their temperatures taken before starting their shifts, the company did not mention if it will screen for other symptoms of the virus, for which the CDC has identified at least 10.

Specific information around COVID-19 outbreaks in Nebraska's meatpacking plants has been hard to come by throughout the pandemic. Plants statewide have fielded complaints from workers, advocates, and concerned community members around a perceived lack of transparency about how many workers are getting sick.

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced last week the state will not share any information around how particular plants have been impacted, but confirmed at least 1,005 workers have contracted the virus.

And according to officials at the Elkhorn Logan Public Health Department, Tyson has not always provided information around possible cases at the Madison plant.

After the state first moved to expand testing in the Madison area in mid-April, The Elkhorn Logan Valley Health Department planned to reserve dozens of tests for Tyson employees and their families, which company officials initially supported. On April 20, the Elkhorn Logan Valley Health Department said management reversed course on providing officials with a list of potential workers to test.

"On Friday evening, April 17th, our department was notified in writing from Tyson Vice President in Arkansas that upon further reflection, Tyson was declining to provide names of any Tyson team members as requested by our department," the Elkhorn Logan Valley Health Department wrote.

"Tyson did not see that providing team member information to us was necessary, as they believed that the testing should be reserved for other groups, stating that they had not identified symptomatic Tyson team members who had not been tested."

The slots were ultimately filled by several Tyson employees through advertising to the general public. "Of those Tyson employees requesting a test through the public scheduling solicitation, the majority of those were reporting symptoms in conjunction with their request to be tested," officials added.

While the company said it will release all confirmed cases to local health officials, employees, and "stakeholders" going forward, officials did not say if there are plans for future updates regarding the plant's outbreak.

 

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