Tyson Foods has deployed infection-tracking algorithms and a “surveillance testing” program at its meatpacking facilities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, reported WSJ.
The Arkansas-based company is concerned about a second and third wave of the virus pandemic, investing money into protective gear and advanced technologies to decrease the spread of the virus among its workers.
“Everyone is concerned about a second or third wave,” Tyson Chief Executive Dean Banks said in an interview.
In April, widespread virus outbreaks among workers in the US meatpacking industry (see: here & here) forced some companies to shutter production lines. According to the CDC, as many as 16,000 workers were infected, and 86 died from the virus. By late spring, some meatpacking plants’ closures created chaos for farmers, many of whom had to cull thousands of animals. The turmoil continued down the chain to supermarkets, where some experienced shortages of meat products or had to limit purchases – ultimately resulting in surging meat prices.
Banks said Tyson’s new infection-tracking algorithms allow him to monitor internal testing results via a dashboard. To make this possible, Tyson launched a weekly “surveillance testing” program in July that tests employees at each production facility.
The monitoring system compares positive employee tests with what tasks they do in the plant and official infection rates in their local community.
“We can dial up the algorithm when we sense there’s something going on in the community, and we’re much more prepared for a second wave,” Banks said, adding that less than one percent of Tyson’s employees are infected with Covid-19.
Tyson is also hiring 200 new nurses and healthcare professionals for its US plants and will build seven mini-clinics near plants that will provide healthcare for employees.
This comes as advocacy groups for workers have complained the company isn’t doing enough to keep them safe. It also comes as the US reported 11 million total cases over the weekend. Just last week, cases were around ten million. The rapid increase in positive cases began accelerating across much of the country in October.
Tyson could also turn to slaughterhouse robots if it really wants to stomp out the virus at its production plants.