Tyson Foods Inc. reports it is preparing to fight new waves of the coronavirus as it takes comprehensive protective steps, including the strategic testing of workers without symptoms.
The company has invested $540 million to transform its U.S. facilities with protective measures, from walk-through temperature scanners and workstation dividers to social distance monitors and always-on testing, as well as provide additional team member pay and benefits. It is also working with outside health experts, expanding its health services staff, adding a chief medical officer position and also plans to pilot health clinics for team members and their families early next year.
“We’ve learned a great deal during the pandemic and are implementing measures such as a new COVID-19 testing strategy, which are enabling us to move from defense to offense in our efforts to actively search for and fight the virus,” said Johanna Söderström, executive vice president & chief human resources officer for Tyson Foods.
Tyson Foods is using testing as a tool and estimates more than half of its workforce has been tested for COVID-19. The company is currently testing thousands of workers per week as part of its industry-leading monitoring strategy. In addition to testing those with symptoms or who have been in close contact with someone who has the virus, the company is also proactively seeking to find the virus by testing workers who have no symptoms.
“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 Dr. Daniel Castillo, 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 also had been working with Matrix Medical and leading infectious disease researchers to learn more about the virus and strategies that could be effective against it. The company has in place a sophisticated data analysis system which constantly monitors a range of national and local data sources to help predict future viral spread.
The company also has made a number of modifications in its operations to protect workers. Examples include:
- Installing HEPA high-performance air filtration systems in some plant breakrooms to help reduce the reduce the risk of transmission
- Conducting continuous, daily cleaning at all facilities, and in some plants doing a nightly sanitizer fogging of high traffic areas such as break rooms, conference rooms, cafeteria and locker rooms
- Installing more than 150 infrared temperature scanners in company facilities
- Designating 150 social distancing monitors in company facilities to ensure company-provided daily personal protective equipment is properly worn and team members are following other best practices
Investing in team member health
Tyson has hired an additional 200 nurses and administrative staff this year, which means the company now has almost 600 medical professionals on staff. These medical professionals screen for symptoms, conduct testing and track cases to help and care for team members if they become ill. Long-term they will provide support for the company’s overall team member health and wellness efforts.
In addition, the company has announced plans to open pilot health clinics to give team members and their families easier access to high-quality healthcare and, in most cases, at no cost. The locations that will be served include:
- Carthage/Center, Texas;
- Berryville, Arkansas;
- Storm Lake, Iowa;
- Holcomb, Kansas;
- Lexington, Nebraska;
- Wilkesboro, North Carolina; and
- Newbern, Tennessee.
Team member communication and support
The company has implemented an ongoing program to regularly educate team members through weekly meetings, new signage and other communication efforts in multiple languages. These efforts teach team members how to be safe both at work and in their personal lives, stressing the risks of large gatherings, confined spaces and other potential virus spreading behaviors. For example, the company recently mailed flyers to all its U.S. team members reminding them how to stay safe during the upcoming holiday season.
Tyson has also supported frontline workers during the pandemic by providing enhanced benefits.
“Given the widely-reported rise of COVID-19 cases across the U.S. and other parts of the world, we know we must remain diligent in our efforts to protect our team members,” said Tom Brower, senior vice president of Health & Safety for Tyson Foods. “In addition to strategic testing, we’re committed to continuing to work with outside health experts to find new, even more effective ways to tackle the virus.”
The company is partnering with the Institute for Food Safety at Cornell University to provide input into a computer modeling project designed to optimize strategies to mitigate spread. In August, the company gathered an independent panel of experts to address workplace safety in the COVID-19 era. This led to the creation of a white paper documenting key discussion points and suggestions on future areas of research.