Tyson Announces Dakota City Meatpacking Plant Will Close for Deep Cleaning

April 29, 2020, 10:26 p.m. ·


Tyson Foods has announced it will pause production at its plant in Dakota City, Nebraska from May 1st to May 4th. The company said in a statement the facility will be deep cleaned while its 4,300 workers are at home.

Tyson has already idled plants in Iowa, Indiana, and Washington due to COVID-19 outbreaks, but this is Nebraska's first plant closure. And while neither the company nor local health officials have publicly acknowledged the total number of workers who have fallen ill, the Dakota City plant suffered its first COVID-19 death last Saturday: a 64-year-old man from Sioux City, Iowa.

The decision to close comes during a difficult week for Dakota County, which is reportedly one of the fastest growing coronavirus hotspots in the country: As of Wednesday, over 700 confirmed COVID-19 cases have emerged in the district of 20,000.

According to company leadership, the decision to pause was made for reasons related to worker safety. Employees will be compensated while the plant is shuttered, and the company said it will continue to partner with the Nebraska National guard to test its staff.

Tyson also unveiled new HR and plant polices Wednesday as "part of ongoing efforts to support frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic ". Tyson will double its $500 "thank you bonus" program and increase short-term disability coverage for workers. While bonuses are based on attendance, Tyson said employees who become sick with COVID-19 will still be eligible.

“This pandemic is ever-evolving, and the decision to make these changes reflects our desire to continuously explore new ways of supporting our team members through this crisis,” said Mary Oleksiuk, executive vice president and chief human resources officer for Tyson Foods.

“The safety and well-being of our people is our top priority as we work together to fulfill our critical role of feeding people across the country.”

Tyson will also implement "additional health screening measures" at plants, such as screening for more COVID-19 symptoms than fever, place "monitors" at facilities to facilitate social distancing, and require workers to wear company-issued masks while working.

The policies follow new meatpacking safety guidelines by OSHA and an order from President Trump that plants stay open, as they are considered critical infrastructure by the federal government.

An infectious disease specialist says the closure is a short-term solution to the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

"But it does not do anything to address the community spread and where the individual workers at the plant may actually pick up the virus and bring it in," said Dr. Jasmine Marcelin of UNMC. "So it still needs to be coupled with additional activities such as providing the appropriate masking and making sure we have hand sanitizers available, soap and water available for washing hands, when people eventually do come back."

NOTE: This story is developing and will be updated as more information becomes available.