Tyson Fresh Meats in Wallula, where more than 1,400 workers were tested for COVID-19.

By the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

Nearly one-fifth of the workforce at Tyson Fresh Meats tested positive for COVID-19, according to a joint release from Tyson Foods Inc. and the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health in partnership with Providence St. Mary Medical Center.

Of the 1,482 employees of Tyson Fresh Meats in Wallula, 277 tested positive for the coronavirus.

That’s about 19% of employees at Washington’s biggest meat processing facility.

According to the release Friday, more than half of the 277 employees testing positive cases exhibited no symptoms.

Prior to facilitywide testing, 126 employees tested positive through care they sought through providers. The mass testing that began April 24 identified another 151 positive results.

Tests were administered by Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla.

“Walla Walla County is proud to collaborate with Tyson Foods and Providence St. Mary Medical Center to manage this virus in our community,” Community Health Director Meghan DeBolt said in the release.

“All individuals with COVID-19 in the county, as well as their close contacts, are instructed to isolate or quarantine at home until they are released by their healthcare provider or public health.”

The facility had come under scrutiny after multiple family members of workers reported to media, including the U-B, that the safety measures at the facility were not sufficient and workers did not feel safe there.

The plant was at least partly closed for a week before resuming limited production, reportedly with extra precautions in place, following an executive order from President Donald Trump.

The order invoked the Defense Production Act, classifying meat processing facilities as essential infrastructure, following a letter from Iowa officials and meat producers to Vice President Mike Pence.

Workers had complained of insufficient sick leave and unpaid sick leave for people who tested positive. Tyson has since said it is changing those policies with 90% short-term disability coverage through June 30 to encourage employees to stay home when sick.

The company also contracted with Matrix Medical to place a temporary health clinic at the site for testing and general worker health care.

Other protective measures the company said have been put into place include temperature checks for all team members before every shift, mandatory protective face masks provided to all team members and a range of social distancing measures, including physical barriers between workstations and in break rooms.

“Our team members are essential to helping feed the nation, and their health and safety is always our first priority,” said Brad Anderson, manager of the Wallula facility. “Disclosing our testing results will help better protect our team members and help provide the wider Pasco community with the information it needs to stop the spread of the virus.”

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