Tyson Foods Launches Nationwide COVID-19 Monitoring Strategy

September 2, 2020 by Dan McCue

SPRINGDALE, Ark. – As part of its ongoing effort to protect its workers from COVID-19, Tyson Foods is launching a nationwide monitoring program at its facilities while extending its occupational health staff.

The new monitoring strategy was designed with the assistance of outside medical experts and includes repeated, data-driven COVID-19 testing of all workers, regardless of whether they’ve exhibited symptoms or are known to have come in contact with someone who has the virus.

In addition to expanding its occupational health staff, the company also created a new executive position of chief medical officer, to oversee it.

“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,” he said. “Adding more resources and technologies reinforces our commitment to protecting our team members, their families and plant communities.”

Debra Vernon, Tyson Foods’ senior director of corporate social responsibility, said the new initiatives build on steps the company has been taking since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak last winter.

“The first step, of course, was getting enough personal protective equipment so that people could continue to work, and implementing a regime of checks to determine whether people were showing up for work while running a temperature, coughing or experiencing a shortness of breath,” she said.

“Toward that end, we purchased 150 infrared, walk-through temperature scanners, and we imposed a number of new technical requirements, like mandating the wearing of face masks, observing social distancing, and installing physical barriers between workstations and in break rooms.”

Vernon said while most of the Tyson Foods headquarters staff continues to work remotely, the few who have returned to the office have encountered a number of changes, including the closure of drinking fountains and refrigerators.

All Tyson Foods facilities also have people assigned to serve as “social monitors,’ making sure workers are observing distancing rules and wearing their face masks.

In April, the company partnered with Matrix Medical Network, a clinical services company, to help ensure the safety and health of team members and contractors as the company reopened idled facilities.

Under their agreement, Matrix is providing daily on-site clinical screening support at select Tyson facilities; assisting with the environmental design of Tyson facilities to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spread; and providing employee education and other support for personal health goals and concerns.

Tyson plans on adding 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 combating 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.”

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 be especially 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,” 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.”

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