Tyson Foods announced plans this week to expand its COVID-19 testing across its U.S. production facilities, following cases at meat packing plants across the country, including its Sherman facility.


In May, Tyson conducted testing of all employees at its Sherman facility and found that 326 of the 1,604 team members tested positive for he viral infection, with two employees dying due the disease. In response to the pandemic, the mean producer has put in place many safeguards in Sherman and other facilities to prevent further spread of the disease.


The new efforts will include weekly testing for team members to help monitor the spread of the disease.


"While the protective measures we’ve implemented in our facilities are working well, we remain vigilant about keeping our team members safe and are always evaluating ways to do more," said Donnie King, Tyson Foods group president and chief administrative officer.


The new efforts will include weekly testing for team members to help monitor the spread of the disease. Employees will be chosen for testing based on an algorithm, in addition to testing of those who show symptoms or have come into contact with a positive case.


"We believe launching a new, strategic approach to monitoring and adding the health staff to support it will help further our efforts to go on the offensive against the virus," King said. "Adding more resources and technologies reinforces our commitment to protecting our team members, their families and plant communities."


As a part of its next program, officials with the meat producer said they intend to use enhanced testing as a way to protect employees. To date, nearly a third of the 120,000 U.S. Tyson workforce has been tested, but this only reflects conditions at one point in a rapidly changing situation.


The company estimated that less than 1 percent of its workforce has an active case of COVID-19.


The increased preventative efforts by Tyson include adding nearly 200 nurses and support personnel to its health service team, effectively increasing it by 50 percent.


Tyson first announced cases of COVID-19 in its Sherman facility in early May, with the easiest cases diagnosed in mid-to-late April. At the time, officials declined to say how many cases had been diagnosed at the facility.


It was only in late May that the plant confirmed that 326 of its employees had tested positive for the disease. 211 of these cases were discovered through testing by the Texas Division of Emergency Management with the National Guard in mid-May. An additional 115 cases were discovered by other health care providers.


To combat the disease, the plant, and many other Tyson facilities across the country, has put in place new protocols and practices to prevent the spread. When employees enter the facility each day, they are screened for symptoms and given a fresh mask to wear while in the facility.


As they walk into the facility, employees will walk through a thermal sensor which will take the temperature of each employee. About 150 of these sensors were put in place in recent months throughout the company’s facilities.


On the production line, employees are separated from each other, with a plastic barrier put in place between stations. Separation continues throughout the course of the day, with staggered breaks, entries and dismissals to prevent congestion in high-traffic areas.


Other measures included educational efforts, printed in four languages, and employees dedicated specifically to preventative efforts.


Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at mhutchins@heralddemocrat.com.