Tyson Foods says its largest U.S. pork plant will reopen Thursday after a major coronavirus outbreak forced the company to shut down the facility two weeks ago.
The plant in Waterloo, Iowa, which employs about 3,000 people, was one of several major meat processing plants to closeits doors in recent weeks because of a COVID-19 outbreak among staff members. The closures have led to meat shortage forecasts and purchase limits at some grocery store chains.
The Black Hawk County health department linked the Waterloo Tyson plant to 182 of the county’s Covid-19 cases on April 21. A week prior, Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart called for the Tyson facility to be temporarily closed.
Tuesday night, Tyson released a statement announcing the plant’s scheduled reopening. Since closing the plant on April 22, the company said it has re-sanitized the entire facility and installed “enhanced safety precautions and protective social distancing measures” that meet or exceed standards set by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
Going forward, Tyson said wellness health screenings will be performed on all plant employees when they arrive for work each day. Those screenings will include temperature checks and examinations for other COVID-19 symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath, the company said.
All employees are now required to wear “facial coverings,” which the company said it is providing. Employees working in areas where workstation barriers could not be installed will be required to use face shields. Social distance monitors will be stationed throughout the plant to ensure that employees comply with safety guidelines.
Tyson said all the plant’s returning staff members have been tested for Covid-19 and plant employees who have not been tested will not be allowed to return to work. The company said employees who have tested positive for the coronavirus will remain on sick leave until health officials say its safe for them to return to work.
Tyson also said it has doubled its bonus pay for frontline workers and plant employees who can’t come to work because of illness or childcare issues related to COVID-19. They will continue to qualify for bonus pay as well.
“Our top priority is the health and safety of our team members, their loved ones and our communities,” Tyson Waterloo plant manager Tom Hart said in a written statement.
Mayor Hart and the Black Hawk County health department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the plant’s reopening. Tyson said the mayor recently toured its revamped Waterloo plant along with Black Hawk county sheriff Tony Thompson, local United Food and Commercial Workers union president Bob Waters and other community business leaders.
“I am pleased that Tyson is working on protecting its employees and partnering with the community leaders for the good of all,” Mayor Hart said in a written statement provided by Tyson.
UFCW union president Bob Waters also gave the plant’s new safety measures his stamp of approval.
“Tyson has gone above and beyond to keep their employees safe and I support the reopening of the facility,” Waters said.