Updated April 30, 2020, 10:40 p.m. PT:
County health officials are updating their numbers on the Tyson Fresh Meats plant near Pasco, Washington. They now say there are 56 new positive cases of coronavirus instead of 75, as they first said Thursday afternoon, April 30. That’s on top of more than 100 workers who were already confirmed positive.
The 56 new positive cases include four workers from Walla Walla County, 31 in Benton and Franklin counties, one in Umatilla County, Oregon, and 20 from as yet unknown locations, according to updated numbers released by the Walla Walla Department of Community Health Thursday evening.
In all, there are 1,400 workers at the plant. Only 1,100 have been tested so far, and test results have been slow to come. Health officials say they expect more results back soon.
Before the mass testing began last week, there were already more than 100 known cases of coronavirus among workers at the plant. Tyson has kept the plant shuttered since April 24, telling workers to quarantine until their results are back.
County health officials say Tyson will decide on any reopening of the plant, where workers speak about a dozen languages.
Across the country, meat-processing plants have seen closures and work disruptions due to coronavirus spread among workers. Tyson Foods chairman John Tyson recently wrote in a company blog post and in several national media outlets that the country’s meat supply is “vulnerable,” with the possibility that “millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain” as plants are forced to close or work slows.
The CEO of Smithfield Food recently warned the nation’s meat supply was “perilously close” to disruptions, NPR reported.
Earlier this week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act aimed at keeping plants open and the nation’s meat supply stocked. As NPR reported at the time: “Trump told reporters at the White House that he is working on a plan ‘to solve any liability problems’ for meat processors.”
Health officials have tested more than 1,000 Tyson Fresh Meats plant workers for COVID-19 in Wallula, Washington, near Pasco. As of Friday afternoon, 111 have tested positive in the plant that slaughters and processes beef products.
Workers said they were concerned that they were still cutting meat a day after the company announced that it was taking a “pause.”
After their shifts, workers lined up in the plant’s cafeteria to get tested for COVID-19. Health officials say they’re using phone translation services because about a dozen languages are spoken inside the plant.
Walla Walla County health director Meghan DeBolt says workers work close together inside.
“It’s just pretty much the perfect breeding ground for COVID-19 and a complete public health nightmare,” DeBolt said.
DeBolt says now workers will isolate at home while they’re waiting for test results.
The plant has been the site of a growing number of cases over the past week, with Tyson saying it would implement more safety measures to address further inspections and avoid shutting down.
Earlier this week, the central Washington fruit giant Stemilt said at least 36 workers had tested positive for COVID-19 around its field operation in the Wenatchee area