By Carol Vaughn —
About 20% of workers at the Temperanceville Tyson Foods poultry processing plant tested positive for COVID-19, according to a press release from the company.
Of 1,282 employees and contractors tested, 257 tested positive. Most did not show symptoms of the illness.
Of the total positive results, 79 were individuals who were tested either by the health department or their doctor; another 178 were tested at the plant between May 5 and 7.
“Team members who test positive receive paid leave and may return to work only when they have met the criteria established by both the CDC and Tyson,” according to the release.
Temperanceville is one of more than 30 facilities where Tyson is using Matrix Medical, a clinical services company, to provide testing and “enhanced care options” on site, it said.
The company is prioritizing communities with greater prevalence of COVID-19.
Accomack County has a case rate of 2,194 per 100,000 population — the third highest rate in Virginia, behind Buckingham County and Richmond County.
Tyson says it will disclose test results at other plants to health and government officials, employees, and stakeholders, as it did with the Temperanceville results, “as part of its efforts to help affected communities where it operates better understand the coronavirus and the protective measures that can be taken to help prevent its spread,” according to the release.
“At Tyson, our team members come first, and we are focused on ensuring they feel safe and secure when they come to work,” said Tom Brower, senior vice president of health and safety. “We are working closely with local health departments and using the latest information and resources to protect our team members, their families and our communities,” he said.
Axiom Medical, a health care case management provider, will track symptoms of employees who test positive and provide additional care. Employees have access to daily clinical screenings, nurse practitioners and enhanced education.
Tyson has put in place protections “that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing COVID-19,” the release said.
Measures include symptom screenings for employees before every shift, providing employees with mandatory protective face masks, and social distancing measures, including physical barriers between workstations and in break rooms.
The company increased short-term disability coverage to 90% of pay until June 30 to encourage employees to state home if sick, and doubled its “thank you” bonus for workers.
Employees who cannot work because of illness or childcare issues related to the virus will continue to qualify, the release said.
“Our team members do critical work helping to feed the nation, and their health and safety is always our first concern,” said Sidney Newman, Temperanceville complex manager. “Releasing our testing results is another step we are taking to better protect our team members and our wider Temperanceville community,” he said.
A team from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was sent to the Eastern Shore last month to help deal with the rise in COVID-19 cases among poultry plant workers at two plants, Tyson’s and Perdue Farms’ plant in Accomac.
Poultry plant workers make up almost 7% of the Eastern Shore of Virginia population — and nearly 12% of Accomack County’s workforce, according to the county’s latest comprehensive financial report.
Perdue has not released publicly results of COVID-19 testing done at its Accomac plant earlier this month.
The Eastern Shore Health District has tripled its capacity to do case investigations in anticipation of hundreds of results from recent testing events.
Jon Richardson, chief operating officer of the Eastern Shore Health District, said May 6 that 55% of cases in the district were poultry workers — that was before results from testing at the two plants had come in.
Perdue as of May 6 had around 175 to 180 cases, all sick people who tested positive for the virus, he said.
Perdue has 1,908 employees at its Accomac plant and Tyson has around 1,300 employees at its Temperanceville plant.