KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nearly 22% of employees who were tested after a recent COVID-19 outbreak was identified at a Tyson Foods processing plant in Noel, Missouri, have tested positive.
The company announced the results Friday of on-site testing it conducted last week at the poultry after the largest new cluster of cases in the U.S. was detected in southwest Missouri.
“Of the 1,142 team members who were tested onsite at the Noel facility from June 17 to June 19, 291 tested positive, of whom 249 — or more than 85% — did not show any symptoms and otherwise would not have been identified,” Tyson said in a statement.
Noel is located in McDonald County, Missouri.
Another outbreak has been identified at a Butterball plant in Carthage, Missouri, which is located in nearby Jasper County.
Those two clusters account for a spike in COVID-19 cases serious enough to draw federal and state officials to Joplin this week for epidemiological work, testing and contact tracing.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services confirmed Thursday that an investigative team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had arrived in Joplin, where the Missouri National Guard also had been deployed for community testing events.
There have been an additional 80 employee cases connected with the Tyson Foods outbreak through state and county testing for a total of 371 employees known to have contracted the virus.
It's unclear how those numbers compare with the COVID-19 cases at the Carthage meatpacking facility, but health officials haven't recommended testing all employees there yet, according to a statement from the company:
We have had positive cases of COVID-19 at our Carthage facility in line with trends in the local community. We are working closely with authorities in the area, and the Jasper County Health Department will be the proper entity to speak to further details.
We have not been informed by local or state health officials regarding the need for mass testing at this time. In accordance with CDC guidance, we are urging anyone who believes they may have been exposed to or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 to consult their physician. Testing is covered under Butterball insurance and we are also working to connect employees to community resources for testing.
Tyson, which said it has tested nearly 40,000 employees at 40 plants nationwide, said employees who have tested positive will receive paid leave while quarantined and may not return to work unless they have met guidelines for recovery put forth by the CDC and company policy.
“We are pleased that Tyson was able to effectively use the ‘box-in’ strategy by conducting facility-wide testing of their Noel team members,” Dr. Randall Williams, director of the state health department, said in a statement issued by Tyson Foods. “This approach will help protect the health of the Tyson team members and also the community at large.”
Tyson said workers are screened before each shift and “mandatory protective face masks” are provided for all workers.
The company encourages social-distancing, designating “more than 500 team members as social distance monitors,” and has even built physical barriers to ensure in some locations around its facilities.
“Our team members do essential work, and their health and safety come first,” Nathan McKay, complex manager for Tyson’s plant in Noel, said in a statement. “It is our job to protect our team members, and by disclosing our results we not only take the necessary precautions for our facility, but also provide the wider Noel community with the information it needs to stop the spread of the virus.”