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Mandatory coronavirus testing to start at Tyson

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With more than 100 Tyson Fresh Meats employees infected with COVID-19, Walla Walla County health officials say they are now requiring the Wallula employer to allow them to test all employees for the coronavirus.

“This will give us a good picture of disease prevalence and will help to screen out asymptomatic cases or those who are just beginning to show symptoms,” said Walla Walla County Department of Community Health Meghan DeBolt in an announcement Tuesday.

Testing of the 1,400 employees is expected to start within the next week. Afterward, every employee will be required to isolate at home until test results come back, DeBolt said.

“This may require the plant to close for a day or two, depending on when the testing can take place and how long it takes to get results back,” she said in a news release.

The testing is the latest step after the company was ordered to implement virus-mitigation measures.

Those measures — including providing masks to employees, installing hand sanitizer stations and more — were to have been completed by Monday.

An inspection from Community Health officials took place Tuesday. Officials would not reveal the results this morning for deadline coverage. Instead, the department has said it will release information daily at 2 p.m.

Tyson’s outbreak spans employees of at least four counties. The vast majority of those with coronavirus — 91 — live in Benton and Franklin counties. Of the infected employees, eight are residents of Walla Walla County and two live in Umatilla County, according to the most recent reports.

The company has been required to increase spacing between workers, add extra cleaning efforts, perform intake checks for symptoms, stagger shift schedules and install plastic barriers, in addition to the aforementioned requirements.

“Quickly identifying cases, getting them isolated, along with their household members and quarantining their close contacts is critical to our public health response to COVID-19,” DeBolt said, adding her department hopes to see additional testing capacity within the community in the weeks to come.

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Sheila Hagar can be reached at or 509-526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers health, social services and city government in Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston in the Walla Walla Valley.

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