At Tyson, 13% of workers infected

Testing carried outin state NW region

The exterior of Tyson Foods Inc. headquarters in Springdale.

Tyson Foods Inc. said Friday that more than 13% of its workers in Northwest Arkansas have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Of the 3,748 workers who underwent on-site coronavirus testing, 481 were infected and 455 showed no symptoms, the Springdale company reported with assistance from Matrix Medical, a health clinic that tested workers at the processing plants.

These results are in addition to 212 positive cases found among Tyson workers that were previously identified by the Arkansas Department of Health, raising the company's regional total to 693 cases.

Tyson began testing workers at several processing plants in Benton and Washington Counties this month as the number of community cases continue to spread throughout the region. The two counties have 1,762 active cases as of Friday, according to the Health Department. More than 20% of those cases have links to the region's poultry industry, data shows.

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As the pandemic spread, Tyson installed 150 infrared temperature scanners across the country to check for coronavirus symptoms among workers. The company also is adhering to federal health guidelines and requiring masks at work. When workers show symptoms of the virus, Tyson has said they are sent home to quarantine and have access to two weeks' pay.

Tom Brower, Tyson's senior vice president of health and safety, said there is still much the world doesn't know about the virus and facility-wide testing helps prevent the spread among those who don't feel sick but are infected.

"Identifying asymptomatic cases helps the community, since other testing is often limited to people who feel unwell," Brower said in a statement Friday.

Break rooms and work stations at the production plants have been expanded and include clear plastic barriers for social-distancing purposes.

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Despite these efforts, cases continue to climb and affect workers with and without symptoms.

"People need to understand this situation didn't come from nowhere, this comes from a lack of worker protections," said Magaly Licolli, co-founder of Venceremos, a poultry worker advocacy group in Northwest Arkansas. The organization is leading a protest today at 6 p.m. in Springdale in response to the rising cases connected to the poultry industry.

Licolli said many workers continue to go to the plants sick, with some fainting. She also urged Tyson to expand testing at the rest of its Arkansas facilities.

Statewide, there are 595 active cases linked to poultry-processing plants and more than 56% represent Hispanic workers, according to a job cluster report released Friday. There have been 1,734 poultry industry cases and 1,139 recoveries across the state, data shows. Along with Washington and Benton Counties, Sevier, Yell, Madison and Sebastian counties have more than 25 active cases connected to the industry.

Since the pandemic took hold in March, Tyson has idled several beef and pork processing plants temporarily to deep clean and align with federal guidelines as workers tested positive and fell ill to the virus. According to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit in Champaign, Ill., 8,517 coronavirus cases have been tied to Tyson so far.

The chicken processor on Friday reported testing thousands of workers at seven food processing factories in Northwest Arkansas this month. Tyson said that it was the only meat processing company to conduct widespread facility testing in the region.

Testing at the facilities found:

• Of the 1,120 workers at the Berry Street plant in Springdale, 227 tested positive, four showed symptoms.

• Of the 825 workers at the Chick-N-Quick plant in Rogers, 21 tested positive, one was symptomatic.

• Of the 650 workers at the Mexican Original tortilla plant in Fayetteville, 26 tested positive, three were symptomatic.

• Of the 513 workers at the Tyson plant in Rogers, 158 tested positive, 10 showed coronavirus symptoms.

• Of the 300 workers at the Randall Road plant in Springdale, 37 tested positive, seven were symptomatic.

• Of the 252 workers at the Tyson distribution center in Rogers, 11 tested positive, none of them symptomatic.

• Of the 88 workers at the Springdale Growout, Gas Company, ITC Hatchery, and Johnson Road Mill in Springdale, one person tested positive and showed signs of illness.

Tyson employees line up Tuesday, June 9, 2020, at a covid-19 testing station set up outside the Tyson Foods Chick-N-Quick plant in Rogers. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Ben Goff)
Tyson employees line up Tuesday, June 9, 2020, at a covid-19 testing station set up outside the Tyson Foods Chick-N-Quick plant in Rogers. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Ben Goff)