Tyson Foods, one of the first national employers to mandate Covid vaccines for its workers, is set to ease mask requirements for its employees as the number of coronavirus cases in the United States falls.
The meatpacking giant said on Tuesday that fully vaccinated workers at “certain facilities” may begin removing their masks at work. He joined companies like Walmart and states like New York that moved to ease restrictions in hopes of achieving a new normal in the absence of revised national guidelines.
“Through our many efforts and, most importantly, our company-wide vaccinated status, we have seen lower Covid-19 infection rates, as well as extremely low rates of serious illness at Tyson.” , said Tom Brower, senior vice president of the company. health and safety, wrote in a memo to employees.
“And in recent weeks, the number of active cases at Tyson has dropped significantly,” he added.
A spokesperson for Tyson said the company has “had productive and ongoing conversations with union representatives about the policy change.”
Tyson has 120,000 workers in more than a dozen states. The long hours they spend working in tight spaces make them particularly susceptible to the virus. And the company was criticized early in the pandemic for not doing enough to protect its workers from the coronavirus, which has killed more than 100 of its employees.
Slaughterhouses have become hotspots for the coronavirus as it spreads, posing a serious challenge to meat production. In April 2020, President Donald J. Trump declared the slaughtering and processing of beef, chicken, and pork to be “critical infrastructure,” indicating that the administration was allowing plants to remain open despite growing numbers of deaths among their workers. The order follows weeks of industry lobbying led by Tyson.
A recent congressional report said that at a Tyson factory in Amarillo, Texas, inspectors observed many employees working with “saturated” masks. At a pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa, dozens of workers fell ill and three died. Local officials, including the county sheriff, said the company initially denied their requests to close the plant in the spring of 2020.
Tyson says he has spent more than $810 million on coronavirus safety measures and new on-site medical services. It conducted factory-wide coronavirus testing and hired its first chief medical officer.
In August, the company announced a requirement for vaccines for its packing plants and poultry plants, many of which are in the South and Midwest, where vaccine resistance is high. By November, more than 96% of its workforce was vaccinated.
Tyson defines fully vaccinated as two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Brower said Tuesday. The company has held more than 100 clinics offering booster shots, he said, and continues to “strongly encourage” booster shots for employees.
The number of coronavirus cases has fallen by about 80% nationwide since its peak in January, to a national average of 155,000 a day, about the same as at the end of December.
Tyson’s relaxation of its mask rules is conditioned on local and other applicable laws, as well as federal regulations, which require the continued use of masks in certain facilities, depending on the rate of transmission, Ms. .Browser. Tyson plans to notify employees soon in factories and offices that will be affected by the change.
It is also reviewing — and considering adjusting — social distancing and testing guidelines.