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Meat plants still COVID hotspots as outbreak ravages another Tyson facility

Workers trim beef at the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Dakota City, Neb. (Keith Myers/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Meat plants are still coronavirus hotspots, even as state lockdown restrictions ease and overall national case numbers begin to fall.

Tyson Foods Inc revealed on Wednesday that a quarter of its Wilkesboro, North Carolina, poultry facility tested positive for COVID-19 after facility-wide testing from May 6-9, according to a press release.

Out of 2,244 workers at the facility, 570 have tested positive for the virus — the majority of whom were asymptomatic, according to the company.

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The exterior of a Tyson Fresh Meats plant is seen on May 1, 2020 in Wallula, Washington. More than 150 workers at the plant tested positive for COVID-19, according to local health officials. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

"We are working closely with local health departments to protect our team members and their families and to help manage the spread of the virus in our communities," Tyson Senior Vice President of Health and Safety Tom Brower said in a statement. "We are using the most up-to-date data and resources to support our team members, and we are committed to ensuring they feel safe and secure when they come to work."

The Wilkesboro plant is one of more than 30 Tyson facilities in the U.S. that have rolled out advanced testing capabilities and on-site care options with Matrix Medical Network, a care management company.

Wilkesboro workers have access to daily screenings and nurse practitioners, and the facility has partnered with health care case management provider Axiom Medical to track employee symptoms and help provide care.

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All Tyson employees are screened for symptoms before work, are required to wear face masks and must abide by social distancing guidelines.

The North Carolina plant limited operations on May 14 so enhanced cleaning procedures could be carried out but has since ramped up production. Workers who test positive fro COVID-19 are given paid leave until they meet criteria from Tyson and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the release.

"Our team members are essential to helping to feed the nation, and their health and safety is always our first priority," Kevin Taylor, complex manager for the Wilkesboro facility, said in a statement. "Disclosing our testing results will help better protect our team members and help provide the wider Wilkesboro community with the information it needs to stop the spread of the virus."

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A file image taken Nov. 14, 2005 shows packages of Tyson brand chicken products displayed in the refrigerator section of a grocery store in New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images

The U.S. is facing a meat supply shortage, particularly with pork and beef, due to meat processing plant shutdowns and slowdowns.

President Trump issued an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act on April 28 ordering meat plants to stay open during the pandemic to protect the country's food supply.

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At least 15,300 reported positive COVID-19 cases have been connected to meatpacking facilities in at least 192 plants in 32 states as of May 20 — up from 14,000 last week — and at least 63 meatpacking facility workers have died of the virus at 31 plants in 18 states, according to an investigation by the Midwest Center for Investigative reporting.

Tyson has the most confirmed COVID-19 cases by company, the Midwest Center reported.

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