Tyson to shut down Wallula beef plant for COVID-19 testing
WALLULA, Wash. — Tyson Fresh Meats will temporarily halt production at at its beef facility in Wallula while team members undergo testing.
Health officials in Walla Walla, Benton, and Franklin Counties will work with the company to test its more than 1,400 team members for COVID-19 as soon as possible.
According to local health officials, more than 100 plant workers have tested positive for the virus. The daughter of one worker said her father died from the virus after working at the plant for more than a decade.
The facility produces enough beef in one day to feed four million people. While the plant is temporarily closed for testing, team members will continue to be compensated and asked to self-isolate at home until results return.
“We’ve taken both of our responsibilities to continue feeding the nation and keeping our team members safe and healthy seriously,” said Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats. “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, COVID-19 case and community concerns has resulted in a collective decision to close and test all team members.”
Resuming operations is dependent on a variety of factors, including the outcome of team member testing for COVID-19 and how long it takes to get results back. Tyson and local health officials are working on a plan to resume production, while keeping team members safe by further educating workers on CDC guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The local health department visited the beef facility last week to observe the protective measures implemented, including social distancing measures such as workstation dividers and more breakroom space.
Tyson Foods says it was one of the first food companies to start taking worker temperatures and is in the process of installing more than 150 infrared temperature scanners in its facilities. The company started efforts to secure a supply of face coverings before the CDC recommended them and now requires their use in all facilities.
“We’re working with local health officials to bring the plant back to full operation as soon as we believe it to be safe,” Stouffer said. “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.”