DAKOTA CITY -- Tyson Fresh Meats reported 786 active COVID-19 cases at its Dakota City plant as of Thursday, but company officials said that number continues to decline.
Tyson's largest beef facility is now back to operating at 60 percent capacity, with its normal two production shifts, company spokesman Gary Mickelson said.
"Tyson has seen substantial improvement at our Dakota City facility since we began large-scale COVID-19 testing efforts in late April, and we are well past the peak of active COVID-19 cases at the facility," Mickelson said.
"We think we've turned a corner. We think the worst is behind us. But we continue to take protective measures that meet or exceed CDC or OSHA guidance preventing COVID-19."
Tyson had previously acknowledged some Dakota City workers testing positive for the novel coronavirus, but had not disclosed a specific number of cases until Thursday. The 786 active cases, based on unverified data, represent over 17 percent of the plant's 4,500 employees and contractors.
The plant's absenteeism continues to decline as infected workers recover and complete a quarantine process, Mickelson said.
"Many of these individuals did not show any symptoms and otherwise would not have been tested and identified as positive," he said.
Mickelson said the company does not have a cumulative number of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, citing a number of obstacles in obtaining such data from multiple jurisdictions and medical providers. The plant's employees and contractors live in 11 counties throughout the tri-state region.
Located just across the Missouri River from Sioux City, the northeast Nebraska plant has been at the center of a metro area outbreak that, at various times, has been the worst in the U.S., relative to population, according to data from the New York Times.
As of April 30, at least 669 of the Dakota City plant's workers had tested positive, according to a source familiar with the situation, who spoke to The Journal on the condition of anonymity that day.
With the number of cases and absenteeism climbing, Tyson temporarily suspended production in Dakota City on May 1 to give the facility a deep cleaning and allow all the remaining workers to be tested. The facility reopened six days later at less than half its normal production capacity.
Tyson noted it has implemented a number of safety measures at the plant, which include taking daily temperatures with infrared scanners positioned at the entrances and installing dividers at work stations, the cafeteria and locker rooms. The company also supplied facial coverings to all employees, who are required to wear them.
"We are committed to helping our communities better understand the coronavirus and the protective measures that can be taken to help prevent its spread," Mickelson said.
Tyson also has partnered with Matrix Medical Network, a clinical services company that provides on-site screenings. Those who report COVID-19 symptoms immediately receive a screening, said Dr. Daniel Castillo, Matrix's chief medical officer. If the screening comes back positive, the patient is sent home and directed to a COVID-19 test, he said.
Those who test positive receive paid leave and may return to work only when after they meet criteria established by both the Centers for Disease Control and Tyson.
Castillo noted a large number of employee have no symptoms before testing positive for the virus. Asymptomatic workers are required to complete protocols that include isolating at home before reporting to duty again.
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