EXCLUSIVE: taking a look inside a Northwest Arkansas Tyson plant amidst COVID-19

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Tyson makes changes to protect workers from COVID-19

SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Despite several procedures to protect employees from COVID-19, not all workers are stationed 6-feet apart at Tyson’s Berry Street plant in Springdale.

Today, KNWA’s Chad Mira was given rare, exclusive access inside the plant to see how it is fighting against the spread of COVID-19.

Before entering the Berry Street Plant in Springdale, we answered several questions about our health and recent travel. We were given some hand sanitizer, a mask and a temperature scan. If it is 100.4 degrees or higher, you are sent home immediately and advised to contact your doctor.

Now on with the tour, alongside Tyson Group President of Poultry, Chad Martin. We are told it is a similar tour that was recently given to the CDC and Arkansas Dept. of Health.

“Some of the comments that we heard were, “You are leading in the industry,”” Martin said.

First stop was the break room. We witnessed employees cleaning around the clock. Every table had partitions on them and stickers letting employees know that they have to sit diagonally from each other. Also new was an outdoor tent to give employees more space to spread out while on break.

“We are doing everything that we know to do and continue to improve upon to prevent any exposure happening within the facility,” Martin said.

We walked down the halls where videos played with important health information for workers. Stickers on the floor encouraged people to stay six feet apart. Next, we put on a hair mask, smock and ear plugs. We wash our hands and head in to see the processing lines.

The lines were still packed with employees, but new partitions separated most of them. We did witness multiple employees standing should to shoulder with no partition separating them. Overall, the line had several protections in place, but it did not look like the recommended set-up provided by the CDC.

This picture from the CDC shows what they recommend. It says, if feasible space workers 6 feet apart in all directions, ideally so that workers are not facing each other. But at Tyson’s Berry Street plant, most workers were within six feet of someone else and workers lined both sides of the line. Partitions did separate the majority of the workers in these scenarios.

We asked Martin why everyone was not separated, but he referred back to all of the mitigation efforts underway.

“We’ve continued to improve and work in this area to make it the absolute best for our team members because we’re committed to their health and safety,” Martin said.

So what happens when a worker does get sick.

“If they’re identified with our thermal scanner, then they are sent home and asked to communicate with their local health provider,” Martin said.

Martin says they notify all close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 patient, but not everyone.

The CDC website says exposure could occur from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, such as tools, workstations, or break room tables. Given the number of workers sharing work stations and break rooms, we asked if everyone should be notified of a case.

“We will continue to openly communicate and be transparent with our team on this, but being able to have each individual data point communicated at that exact period of time is very difficult given the situation that we’re in,” Martin said.

Tyson will not confirm case numbers at the facility, but Martin said this facility has not had to cut back on production.

After I pointed out the lack of partitions for all employees for a third time, Tyson responded Tuesday night with the following statement.

“Thanks for bringing this to our attention. In some cases, we’re adapting our processes to meet changing customer needs. An additional workstation divider will be installed on this line before production resumes. Like all of our employees, these team members had their temperatures taken prior to entering the facility, are wearing required surgical masks and are safe to be at work.”

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