Harrison Keegan, Springfield News-Leader
Published 12: 33 p.m. ET June 27, 2020 | Updated 12: 36 p.m. ET June 27, 2020
President Donald Trump has declared that meatpacking plants are “critical infrastructure” in order to keep them open during coronavirus.
Tyson Foods announced Friday that 371 employees at its chicken plant in Noel, Missouri had tested positive for COVID-19.
Friday’s announcement confirms suspicions that the recent spike in McDonald County’s reported COVID-19 numbers was the result of large-scale testing at the chicken plant.
In a news release, Tyson said it tested 1,142 employees from June 17 to June 19, and 291 tested positive for COVID-19. Of those 291, Tyson said 249 or 85% were asymptomatic or didn’t show any symptoms.
Tyson said that an additional 80 Noel employees tested positive for COVID-19 in separate tests that were performed by their health care providers or the Department of Health and Senior Services.
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The employees who tested positive for COVID-19 will receive paid leave during the quarantine period and can only return to work once they have met the criteria established by Tyson and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the release.
Tyson officials said they hope their large-scale testing and the discovery of these asymptomatic positive cases will help slow community spread of the virus.
The company has said it already had several protective measures in place at the Noel facility, like screening its employees for symptoms before every shift, requiring masks and instilling a variety of social distancing measures.
McDonald County, a sparsely populated area located in Missouri’s extreme southwestern corner, caught national attention for its recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
The testing in Missouri follows news out of northwest Arkansas last week that 481 people at Tyson’s Benton and Washington County facilities had tested positive for COVID-19. Of those 481 people, 95% were asymptomatic.
On Sunday, China’s General Administration of Customs office announced it had suspended poultry imports from Tyson Foods facility in Springdale, Arkansas where hundreds have tested positive for the coronavirus.
There have been COVID-19 outbreaks at several meat processing plants across the country since March when the virus was characterized as a pandemic. In late April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at keeping the facilities open.
Tyson said it has done large-scale testing at more than 40 facilities across the country.
Contributing: Kelly Tyko, USA TODAY
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