SPRINGDALE, ARK. – After already testing nearly one-third of its workforce, Tyson Foods is enacting a new testing and monitoring program to help protect its workers from coronavirus (COVID-19). As part of its new strategy the company will test tens of thousands of workers every week across all of its facilities. In addition, the company is expanding its occupational health staff and hiring a new chief medical officer.
“While the protective measures we’ve implemented in our facilities are working well, we remain vigilant about keeping our team members safe and are always evaluating ways to do more,” said Donnie King, Tyson Foods group president and chief administrative officer. “We believe launching a new, strategic approach to monitoring and adding the health staff to support it will help further our efforts to go on the offensive against the virus. Adding more resources and technologies reinforces our commitment to protecting our team members, their families and plant communities.”
Tyson’s comprehensive COVID monitoring plan focuses on using “testing as a tool,” the company said. The strategy includes ongoing, data-driven COVID-19 testing of workers without symptoms, those with certain symptoms and people who have been in close contact with someone who has the virus. Currently, less than 1% of the company’s workforce in the United States – consisting of more than 120,000 employees – has active COVID-19.
“What we’re adopting is a strategic, ongoing approach to combatting COVID-19,” King said. “It involves weekly testing of team members at our facilities to monitor for the presence of the virus. By using data science to test a statistically sound sample of team members, we have a better chance of staying ahead of any potential virus spread and protecting our teams and communities.”
Tyson’s new monitoring and testing strategy was designed with input from Matrix Medical and follows guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Tyson will be hiring a chief medical officer and adding around 200 nurses and administrative support personnel. There are currently more than 400 people working as a part of the company’s health services team. The extra nurses will conduct on-site testing and will help coordinate treatment for any employees who contract the virus.
The testing program includes three categories:
Strategic, always-on monitoring. Employees without symptoms may be selected for testing based on an algorithm-based selection process. The number tested each week will be dynamic and adjusted based on the number of positive cases involving plant workers as well as people in the community.
Symptomatic team members. The company conducts health screenings daily as employees for work. Anyone with symptoms will be tested using CDC guidance.
Close contacts. Any employees who have come into close contact with co-workers (or non-Tyson personnel in the workplace) who have symptoms or have tested positive will be tested according to CDC guidance.
“We’ve been piloting this program at several of our facilities and have seen great success,” King said. “Our team members tell us they feel especially supported by this scientifically sound combination of testing and monitoring.”
This ongoing monitoring approach is designed to help determine the prevalence of the virus and how to keep it under control at the plants. It will also help identify employees who could have the virus but aren’t showing any symptoms, the company said.
“The new monitoring program we helped Tyson create is a science-first approach that’s really on the cutting edge of how workplaces can best mitigate the risk of the virus,” said Daniel Castillo,MD, chief medical officer for Matrix Medical Network. “You’ll likely see many others adopt a similar approach in the coming months because it’s a process that looks both at people showing symptoms as well as those who do not.”
Tyson formed a coronavirus task force in January when the virus started appearing in the United States and adopted a number of protective measures in the months that followed, including symptom screening, issuing face masks to workers and adding workstation dividers.
“As the largest union for America's meatpacking workers, we welcome this important step by Tyson Foods, which demonstrates the leadership needed to strengthen COVID monitoring across the industry,” said Marc Perrone, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International president. “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. Together, we will continue to look for new and better ways to protect the health and safety of the brave frontline workers who are so important to the nation’s food production system.”