Tyson Foods announced Thursday (July 30) a new COVID-19 monitoring program focused on continued testing of workers and expanded medical staffing in order to strengthen protections against the virus in its meatpacking plants.
The company will test thousands of workers each week, including those without symptoms, as well as those who exhibit certain symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who has the virus. To support the effort, the company said it created a chief medical officer position, and has added nearly 200 nurses and administrative support personnel to a health services team that already employs more than 400 people.
Tyson said it tested nearly a third of its 120,000-employee workforce in that initiative, and sees testing as an effective tool that has helped identify positives among asymptomatic workers.
“We believe launching a new, strategic approach to monitoring and adding the health staff to support it will help further our efforts to go on the offensive against the virus,” Donnie King, Tyson Foods group president and chief administrative officer, said in a news release. “Adding more resources and technologies reinforces our commitment to protecting our team members, their families and plant communities.”
The new process includes always-on monitoring and health screenings daily as employees arrive a work. Those with symptoms will be tested using guidance from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Employees who come into contact with co-workers or non-Tyson personnel who have symptoms will also be monitored under the new protocol.
“The new monitoring program we helped Tyson create is a science-first approach that’s really on the cutting edge of how workplaces can best mitigate the risk of the virus,” said Dr. Daniel Castillo, chief medical officer for Matrix Medical Network, which has assisted in the development of the advanced testing protocols. “You’ll likely see many others adopt a similar approach in the coming months because it’s a process that looks both at people showing symptoms as well as those who do not.”
Tyson Foods has been sued by three families in Waterloo, Iowa, after family members died from COVID-19 they link to employment at the company’s pork processing facility. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union largely backs Tyson’s continued efforts to keep employees safe.
“As the largest union for America’s meatpacking workers, we welcome this important step by Tyson Foods, which demonstrates the leadership needed to strengthen COVID monitoring across the industry,” said United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International President Marc Perrone. “UFCW is urging all companies in the industry to follow Tyson’s lead and take immediate action to expand COVID monitoring as we work to flatten the curve. Together, we will continue to look for new and better ways to protect the health and safety of the brave frontline workers who are so important to the nation’s food production system.”
Tyson Foods is a defendant in a recent lawsuit filed by the UFCW against the U.S. Department of Agriculture over waivers the government gives poultry companies to increase line speeds within their processing facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.