Tyson Foods to Test Benton, Washington County Employees for COVID-19

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Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale said Monday that it will conduct facility-wide testing for COVID-19 at its processing facilities and other operations in Benton and Washington counties.

The move comes as the number of coronavirus cases have risen in northwest Arkansas. The publicly traded meat processor (NYSE: TSN) said it’s taking this “precautionary measure” to employees.

It also said the move was part of its efforts “to help affected communities where it operates better understand the coronavirus and measures that can be taken to help prevent its spread.”

“At Tyson, we believe testing can be critical to improving individual health outcomes, helping ensure plant and community safety and ensuring team members feel safe and secure when they come to work,” Tom Brower, Tyson Foods’ senior vice president of health and safety, said in a news release. 

“Our testing in other parts of the country has shown a high number of positive cases among individuals who did not show any symptoms and otherwise would not have been identified, and we can do a public service in northwest Arkansas by testing at our facilities there as well,” he said.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the company’s plans during his daily COVID-19 briefing, which took place in Rogers on Monday. He said he met earlier in the day with representatives from the local poultry industry.

“They have really set a national model for best practices in the poultry industry from their companies right here in northwest Arkansas and I want to applaud them,” the governor said, adding that companies like Tyson Foods and Simmons Foods Inc. of Siloam Springs were a model for the state and nation.

“People should be comfortable that they’re working hard to keep the supply chain moving, to make sure that we have food in our grocery store, that we have protein,” Hutchinson said. “But that also it’s something that they’re working hard to keep their workers safe and the public safe as well, and making sure they’re not contributing to the community spread.”

Like other food companies, Tyson Foods has battled COVID-19 infections while trying to keep factories operating. It’s had to temporarily close plants in other states, including Indiana and Iowa, amid large outbreaks.

Tyson said it’s identified “a limited number” of cases in Arkansas. The company said that as of Monday it was aware of 77 active cases among nearly 24,500 Arkansas employees. It said those workers remain absent from work per company guidelines and guidelines outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tyson said it will partner state and local officials and mobile health care services company Matrix Medical to conduct diagnostic testing for COVID-19.

The company said it has put in a place protective measures at its processing facilities “that meet or exceed” CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing COVID-19.

“These include daily clinical symptom screenings for all team members before every shift, providing mandatory protective face masks to all team members, and a range of social distancing measures including physical barriers between workstations and in break rooms. Tyson is also providing enhanced education to ensure our team members understand risk factors and protective measures to take so that they can stay safe at work and at home,” the company said.

Coronavirus cases grew to at least 7,443 on Monday, an increase of 190 cases from a day earlier, Hutchinson said. No new deaths were reported, and the statewide toll stood at 133 people. 

The true numbers are likely higher, however, because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick. 

Hutchinson said more than 80,000 people in Arkansas were tested for the illness in May.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)