Wilkes County Plans More Testing After COVID-19 Outbreak At Tyson Plant

Wilkes County Plans More Testing After COVID-19 Outbreak At Tyson Plant

1:54pm May 05, 2020
The Tyson Foods plant in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. KERI BROWN/WFDD

COVID-19 cases in Wilkes County have spiked dramatically within the past two weeks — over 130 reported as of Tuesday. Local officials say many of them are coming from the Tyson Foods Processing Plant. The numbers are expected to grow as county officials conduct random tests there.

The county health department and state officials are working with Tyson to better understand the scope of the outbreak. They tested around 200 employees on Monday. Those results are expected back in the next few days.

Wilkes County Manager John Yates says more testing is being planned in the community.

We’re a little bit overwhelmed because of the number right now, but our health department is working hard and we’ve partnered with the school system,” says Yates. ”We’re bringing in school nurses to do contact tracing, and we're also working with Walmart and the state to do more tests for citizens that want to be tested.”

Tyson is like a lot of others in the industry putting safety measures into place. That includes relaxing attendance policies to encourage sick workers to stay home, temperature checks, and dividers between workstations.

But labor advocates say it’s not enough protection and action was slow to implement, and they say workers are afraid.

The company is Wilkes County’s largest employer with more than 2,000 workers at the chicken processing facility in Wilkesboro.

According to an update from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday, there are 899 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 20 outbreaks at meat processing plants in the following North Carolina counties: Bertie, Bladen, Chatham, Duplin, Lee, Lenoir, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, Union, Wilkes, and Wilson.

*Follow WFDD’s Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

Support your
public radio station