- Tyson Foods announced Thursday it is starting a new testing and monitoring program at all 140 of its production facilities. The company will now test its workers for coronavirus weekly, which is one of the most rigorous testing plans in the industry to date.
- Tyson also created a chief medical officer position and plans to add nearly 200 nurses and administrative support personnel for its new program. The additional nurses will do the on-site testing and help arrange treatment for those who test positive.
- Less than 1% of Tyson's 120,000 workers in the U.S. currently have coronavirus, the company said. Donnie King, Tyson Foods' group president and chief administrative officer, said in the release that the company has seen success piloting the testing program in several plants.
Meat plants and food manufacturers are still fighting coronavirus outbreaks. Even after implementing measures like plastic barriers, mask requirements and temperature checking, coronavirus has continued to spread through plants as employees work in close quarters.
This is a big move by Tyson to implement regular testing and invest in more nurses for all of its facilities. Unions are hoping this step will inspire other meatpackers and manufacturers to do the same.
"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," United Food and Commercial Workers International President Marc Perrone said in a statement.
Tyson's new program — which was designed with Matrix Medical Network using CDC guidelines — will test team members who have no symptoms using an algorithm-based selection process. The number tested each week will vary depending on the number of positives in the community and the specific plant. The company is conducting health screenings daily and those who have symptoms will be tested. Workers who come in close contact with others who tested positive or exhibited symptoms will also be tested.
Other companies have looked into broader and more regular employee testing. In May, Walmart announced the company was looking into ways to test its 1.5 million workers for coronavirus and antibodies. Amazon also said it was planning to spend $1 billion to develop employee testing this year. But meat plants haven't made similar pledges until now.
When the pandemic began, meat plants quickly became hotbeds for coronavirus as employees typically work shoulder-to-shoulder. Overall, more than 30,000 meatpacking workers have tested positive for coronavirus and more than 168 have died, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network, including more than 10,000 from Tyson. Tyson is being sued by several families of worker who died from coronavirus.
After plants started to close to stop the spread, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to keep facilities open amid supply chain concerns. When it was announced, critics said the order could endanger workers. Since then, plants have mostly kept their doors open and returned to normal production. But the criticism and concern for workers has pressed on. Just this week, a lawsuit was filed and legislation was introduced against USDA over increased line speeds at meat plants amid the pandemic.
As meatpackers look to find ways to move forward and better protect their workforce, Tyson is trying to lead the pack. Along with the new weekly testing, the meat giant is also investing in and speeding up its plans to develop automated meat processing in its plants.