Tyson Foods (copy)

Tyson Foods plant in Wilkesboro, Thursday, April 30. Several employees of the plant have recently tested positive for COVID-19.

The COVID-19 outbreak at the Tyson Foods chicken-processing facilities in Wilkesboro has surged into likely one of the largest in the state.

Tyson confirmed Wednesday that 570 out of its 2,244 full-time and contract employees, or 25.4% of the workforce, has tested positive for the virus.

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t list the state’s largest individual outbreaks on its website dashboard outside those at nursing homes and residential care facilities.

Meanwhile, Hanesbrands Inc. said Wednesday that additional testing of employees at its Rural Hall distribution center found an additional 15 positive tests for a total of at least 16.

Hanesbrands spokesman Matt Hall said the company had 164 distribution center employees tested.

“This rate of positive results is consistent with the overall Forsyth County rate for test results,” Hall said.

Hall said of the 15 new cases, 10 were already in quarantine based on the first positive case that was disclosed May 15.

“We have begun contact tracing on the other five and have suspended operations for all employees of this shift,” Hall said. “It is important to note that of the 15 positive cases, only two showed symptoms.”

Testing proves vital

Tyson said the majority of infected employees “did not show any symptoms and otherwise would not have been identified.”

The company said 2,007 employees were tested for the virus at the facility May 6-9.

The remaining 237 employees were either tested by Wilkes County Health Department officials or through their health care provider.

Wilkes elected and public health officials said testing of 200 Tyson employees found that 38, or 19%, had the virus.

Tyson said employees who have tested positive are on paid leave and not allowed to return to work until “they have met the criteria established by both the CDC and Tyson.”

“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,” said Tom Brower, Tyson’s senior vice president of health and safety.

The company said employees have access to daily clinical symptom screenings, nurse practitioners and enhanced education. Axiom Medical, a health care case management provider, is providing contact tracing assistance.

Tyson said May 14 it would conduct a second temporary plant shutdown at its Fresh Plant 2 facility that was completed Tuesday. Its Fresh Plant 1 and food services facility are operating on a limited basis.

Wilkes health department said that as of Wednesday morning, the county had 447 confirmed cases with two deaths and 239 individuals considered as recovered for an active total of 206.

Ninety percent of the Wilkes cases involved individuals infected from close contact. A total of 47% of cases involve those ages 26 to 50, and 37% of cases ages 51 and older.

The Wilkesboro facilities are at least the seventh nationwide that Tyson has idled temporarily for a deep cleaning, counting three in Iowa and one each in Indiana, Nebraska and Washington state.

According to health department and media reports, there have been more than 3,500 infected Tyson workers at those seven plants.

rcraver@wsjournal.com

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@rcraverWSJ

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