NOEL, Mo. — Tyson Foods on Friday said 371 workers at its poultry processing plant in Noel have tested positive for COVID-19 out of 1,142 employees who were tested either by the company or by health care officials. That is 32.4%.
The company said that 291 of those workers were tested at the plant June 17-19, and that 249 of them — more than 85% — did not show any symptoms and would not otherwise have been identified.
There were another 80 positive cases identified by either the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services or by the employees' own health care providers.
“Our team members do essential work, and their health and safety come first,” Nathan McKay, complex manager for Tyson 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.”
Noel is one of more than 40 Tyson locations around the country where the company has implemented a program of prevention and testing to help contain the risk of community spread.
McDonald County has been a hotspot recently for the virus, with more than 600 cases reported as of Thursday.
Tyson officials also said they had no update when asked about plans to test at Monett, where the company has another poultry processing plant. Last week the company said it was "prioritizing plants in communities with a higher prevalence of COVID-19," and that it was not aware of any large outbreak at that plant.
Lawrence County officials on Thursday said they had a total of 27 cases; Barry County had reported 38 cases.
Many beef, pork and poultry processing plants around the country operated by Tyson and other meat processing companies have been hit hard by COVID-19 cases.
Last week, Tyson announced results of testing for COVID-19 at its locations throughout Benton and Washington counties in Northwest Arkansas.
Of the 3,748 team members who were tested onsite, the company said that 481, or 13%, tested positive; of those, 455, or nearly 95%, were asymptomatic. Tyson also said an additional 212 positive cases were reported among employees identified by the local health departments or when seeking care through their own health care providers. That means that of 3,960 employees who were tested one way or another, 693, or nearly 18%, were positive.
China this week also announced a decision to ban imports from Tyson's Springdale, Arkansas, plant. That country imposed a similar ban last week on pork imports from a German plant where a number of workers tested positive for COVID-19, but it hasn’t taken action against other U.S. beef, pork and poultry plants that have seen outbreaks among workers.
A U.S. Agriculture Department spokesman said Monday that there is no evidence of the virus being transmitted by food or food packaging.
“This action by the Chinese is completely unjustified,” National Chicken Council spokesman Tom Super said.
Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson also said the company remains confident that its products are safe, and it hopes the issue can be resolved in trade talks between the two countries.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called China’s move “very troubling” because there has been no evidence of the virus being transmitted from food, and he questioned why the Springdale plant was singled out.
“I don’t know whether China is playing politics or just making bad judgments, but that’s not good or helpful at all in our relationship,” Hutchinson said.
Tyson said protective measures put in place at its production plants include symptom screenings for all team members before every shift, providing mandatory protective face masks to all team members, as well as a range of social distancing measures, including physical barriers between workstations and in breakrooms.
Tyson has also designated more than 500 team members as social distance monitors in all its plants and is working with team members to provide training and education in several languages on how best to follow CDC guidelines both at work and home.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.