SPRINGDALE, ARK. – Tyson Foods, Inc. will temporarily suspend production at its Pasco, Wash., Tyson Fresh Meats plant to test its employees for coronavirus (COVID-19).

On April 21, the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health (DCH) announced it would require all 1,400-plus employees of the facility to be tested after more than 90 workers had already tested positive for the virus. Most of the people testing positive live in nearby Benton County or Franklin County, while eight of the workers were identified as residents of Walla Walla County. The DCH said it has been in daily contact with Tyson officials regarding the situation since April 6, and DCH officials conducted a site visit at the Pasco plant on April 13.

Testing of all workers is to take place within a week, and they are required to self-quarantine at home until test results have been determined.

“This may require the plant to close for a day or two, depending on when the testing can take place and how long it takes to get results back,” said Meghan DeBolt, director of the county’s DCH.

Employees will continue to be compensated while waiting for test results, and resuming operations will depend largely on test results, Tyson said.

“We’re working with local health officials to bring the plant back to full operation as soon as we believe it to be safe,” said Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats, the pork and beef processing subsidiary of Tyson Foods. “Unfortunately, the closure will mean reduced food supplies and presents problems to farmers who have no place to take their livestock. It’s a complicated situation across the supply chain.”

With the cases in the area climbing over the past few weeks, Ms. Debolt said the counties in the area are looking forward to the ability to test more residents.

“Quickly identifying cases, getting them isolated, along with their household members, and quarantining their close contacts is critical to our public health response to COVID-19,” Ms. DeBolt said. “We hope to see additional testing capacity within our community in weeks to come.”

Mr. Stouffer added, “We’ve taken both of our responsibilities to continue feeding the nation and keeping our team members safe and healthy seriously. That’s why we’ve been focused on COVID-19 since January when we first formed a company coronavirus task force. We’ve since implemented numerous measures to protect workers and, at times, have gone beyond CDC guidance.

“We’ve also worked with the local health department on more mitigation efforts and have accommodated all its recommendations for protective measures, which exceeded CDC guidelines. Despite these efforts, the combination of worker absenteeism and COVID-19 case and community concerns has resulted in a collective decision to close and test all team members.” 

Tyson announced on April 22 that its Logansport, Ind.-based pork plant would close to allow for its more than 2,200 workers to be tested. The company also announced this past week that it had indefinitely closed its Waterloo, Iowa, pork plant and planned to test its 2,800 employees for the virus.