As part of its commitment to team member safety and continually evolving efforts to protect workers from COVID-19, Tyson Foods, Inc. is launching a new, industry-leading monitoring program and expanding its occupational health staff, including a new chief medical officer position.
The comprehensive COVID-19 monitoring strategy was designed with the assistance of outside medical experts and includes ongoing, data driven COVID-19 testing of workers without symptoms, as well as those who exhibit certain symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who has the virus.
"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," says 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 Foods has been using testing as a tool to protect workers and the company says it likely has been involved in more testing than any other company in the country. Already having tested nearly a third of its workforce, the company plans to test thousands of workers every week across all of its facilities. Currently, less than 1% of Tyson Foods' U.S. workforce of 120,000 team members has active COVID-19. The company is continually tracking active COVID-19 cases involving company team members as well as the case levels in the communities where the company operates.
The new monitoring strategy Tyson Foods is implementing was designed with input from Matrix Medical and is consistent with CDC guidance.
To support the effort, Tyson Foods has created a chief medical officer position and plans to add almost 200 nurses and administrative support personnel to supplement the more than 400 people currently part of the company's health services team. The additional nurses will conduct the on-site testing and assist with case management, coordinating treatment for team members who contract the virus.
"What we're adopting is a strategic, ongoing approach to combatting COVID-19," says King. "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."
"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," says United Food and Commercial Workers International President Marc Perrone. "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."
The testing program includes three categories:
- Strategic, always-on monitoring: Team members who have no 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 factors, such as 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 team members arrive for work. Those found to have symptoms will be tested using CDC guidance.
- Close contacts: Team members 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," says King. "Our team members tell us they feel especially supported by this scientifically sound combination of testing and monitoring."
Medical experts believe this monitoring approach is the best way to screen for COVID-19 in an ongoing way that helps determine the prevalence of the virus and how to keep it under control. It will especially be helpful in identifying team members who have the virus but are not showing any 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," says Daniel Castillo, chief medical officer for Matrix Medical Network, which has assisted in the development of the advanced testing protocols. "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."
Worker health and safety is Tyson Foods' top priority. The company formed a coronavirus task force in January and has since transformed its food production facilities with protective measures, from symptom screenings and face masks to workstation dividers and social distance monitors.
Tyson Foods has given plant tours to government leaders, and officials from the CDC and LULAC, the nation's largest and oldest Hispanic organization, so they could see the measures the company has put place. LULAC has acknowledged that Tyson Foods has "made significant strides."