WALLULA, WASH. – At least 30 cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) were linked to residents of Benton and Franklin County, Wash., working at the Pasco Tyson Fresh Meats plant, located in Wallula. The Benton-Franklin Health District reported two probable cases related to people who were in close contact with the 28 people who tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number of cases to 30, including many workers who live in and around Benton and Franklin counties.

Investigation into the cases includes health officials representing the district who are working with the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health, where the plant is located, along with the state’s health department.

Gary Mickelson, a spokesman with Tyson Foods Inc., confirmed the Pasco plant is operating while monitoring the situation and implementing additional precautions.

“When there’s a confirmed case at one of our locations, as part of our protocol we separate the worker involved and send them home,” Mickelson said. “We also notify anyone who has been in close contact with them.”

Tyson’s precautions include checking the body temperature of all workers, providing them with face coverings and incorporating additional cleaning of processing facilities. Relaxed attendance policies were implemented beginning in March to encourage sick workers to stay home and the company has installed dividers between workstations and added breakroom space to facilitate social distancing.

To more efficiently and safely check the temperature of all workers, Tyson announced on April 13, that it has invested in more than 150 infrared walk-through temperature scanners. To date, the scanners have been installed in its two pork plants in Iowa and Indiana and two of its poultry facilities in Arkansas and Georgia.

Tom Brower, vice president of health and safety, said the plan is to utilize scanners at all of the company’s food production facilities. 

“All that team members have to do is walk through the detector zone one at a time,” Brower said. “The non-contact thermal imaging system tracks them as a screen provides a real-time display of the maximum temperature reading of each person. If a team member’s temperature exceeds a fever-grade temperature, the system sets an alarm. One of our trained professionals will take additional steps and check that team members temperature with a temporal thermometer to verify their temperature. If a team member is sick, we’ll send them home.”