Weeks After Trump Compels Meat Processors to Remain Open, COVID-19 Breaks Out at NC Tyson Plant

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By Billy Ball

May 21, 2020

Vice News reported Thursday that 570 of the plant’s 2,244 employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

A Wilkesboro chicken plant is the site of another coronavirus outbreak at a North Carolina meat plant, Vice News reported Thursday

Almost 600 at the Wilkes County Tyson Plant have tested positive for the dangerous virus, which has been on the rise in the state’s bustling meat packing industry. 

World health experts say there is no evidence COVID-19 is transmitted via food, but the close working conditions inside such facilities make social distancing difficult to impossible, exacerbating the spread.

Vice News reported that Tyson confirmed infections in 570 of the 2,244 employees at the facility, forcing them to close two of the three processing plants in Wilkesboro.

The outbreak comes weeks after President Trump signed an executive order forcing such meat plants to remain open despite the danger. NC officials have also been under pressure from some to begin disclosing the location of similar outbreaks in the state’s meat processing plants. 

From Vice News Thursday:

Tyson said that 237 tests were conducted by the state’s Department of Health or local healthcare providers, while the remaining 2,007 were conducted on-site between May 6 and May 9. Though they didn’t provide an exact figure, they say a majority of the employees who tested positive were asymptomatic.

Employees who test positive at the Wilkesboro plant will be provided paid leave as they head into quarantine and are being asked to remain at home until their health meets the CDC’s and Tyson’s standards.

“We are working closely with local health departments to protect our team members and their families, and to help manage the spread of the virus in our communities,” said Senior Vice President of Health and Safety for Tyson Foods Tom Brower on Wednesday. “We are using the most up-to-date data and resources to support our team members, and we are committed to ensuring they feel safe and secure when they come to work.”

The news comes amid NC’s push to take another step Friday lifting social distancing orders.

As of Thursday morning, the state has a confirmed 20,860 cases and 716 deaths from the coronavirus. Cases sharply increased in recent days, although testing has been on the rise as well. During that time, positive tests as a percentage of total tests has remained relatively stable at around 7%, Cooper’s administration says.


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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