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Health officials require more of Tyson Fresh Meats

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Tyson Fresh Meats

Tyson Fresh Meats plant on Dodd Road in Wallula.

Walla Walla County public health officials said Friday that Tyson Fresh Meats in Wallula faces additional requirements in the face of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Meghan DeBolt, director of the Department of Community Health, confirmed Walla Walla County has a new positive test result in a resident who works at Tyson. That brings the total number of COVID-19 cases in the county to 27, seven of which are linked to the Wallula meat plant.

Tyson is the center of a COVID-19 outbreak affecting Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla and Umatilla counties. As of today there are 50 confirmed cases in employees of the beef production plant, DeBolt said.

The first linked Walla Walla County employee tested positive April 1.

In working with Benton-Franklin Health District, Washington state Department of Health and Walla Walla County public health teams, Tyson officials began efforts to contain the spread of the virus in the plant on April 6, then increasing those measures over the past weekend, DeBolt said.

That includes extra cleaning, moving Tyson employees farther apart in common areas, putting up plastic barriers and checking people for symptom before entering buildings.

As of today, wearing masks will be required, and Tyson will supply those as needed. More hand sanitizing stations have been installed, and more are coming. Plant managers have also increased time between shifts and installed plastic shields in the cafeteria and break areas, where physical distancing is not an option DeBolt said.

Her department is also demanding additional efforts to get floor markers for 6-foot spacing.

While Tyson officials have been cooperative, if at any point the plant falls out of public health compliance, her department will take further action.

That could include closure until the plant is safe to reopen, DeBolt said, calling that a Band-Aid approach that would see a reduction of Tyson-linked cases during isolation and quarantine periods.

“However, this would be a short-term solution and we want to ensure Tyson, and other companies, put in place proper mitigation efforts so they can continue to operate throughout the pandemic,” she said.

“We do not know how long this pandemic will last, but we are in it for the long haul. Being negative will not help anyone.”

With more than 11 languages being spoken at the plant, signage and messaging must be robust and reach every employee. Random inspections will be increased, and information gathered from investigations and complaints filed with the state to monitor the cornonavirus outbreak, she said today.

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Sheila Hagar can be reached at 509-526-8322 or sheilahagar@wwub.com.