Tyson Foods said on Feb. 15, that it would lift its mask mandate for fully vaccinated employees at certain U.S. facilities, except those working at meatpacking plants for now.
The meatpacking company said that its new policy applies to employees at facilities not under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Employees at its corporate offices, distribution centers, feed mills, and some production facilities inspected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can go without masks if state and local laws allow it, said Tyson spokesman Derek Burleson.
“We’re definitely working with USDA on what this might look like at each of our FSIS-inspected facilities,” said Burleson, and that “we’re working to try to expand this to more facilities.”
The meat processor will work with the federal food regulator to potentially extend the policy to workers in meatpacking plants who are not in contact with government inspectors, said Burleson, but he added that the policy does not yet impact most Tyson employees.
Tyson was one of the first large businesses in the United States to mandate vaccines for its employees, and it will follow other employers like Amazon and Walmart in relaxing mask requirements, as the number of active cases across the country declines.
The produce company, which employs more than 120,000 workers in around a dozen states, required workers to be vaccinated last year.
Long hours in close proximity with hundreds of fellow workers in the production facilities increased the vulnerability of infection towards the virus.
President Donald J. Trump, declared in April 2020, that meat production plants were “critical infrastructure” after weeks of lobbying led by Tyson, and he allowed the plants to remain open despite a growing number of cases among the workers.
USDA requirement mandates that plant workers wear masks when federal inspectors are present at facilities in geographic areas that are at high risk or have large concentrations of infections.
Rising cases of the Omicron variant in January, again forced production plants to slow production.
Tyson has spent more than $810 million on CCP virus safety measures and has appointed its first chief medical officer.
It now conducts plant-wide virus testing on a regular basis and offers new on-site medical services.
“Due to our many efforts and, most importantly, our enterprise wide vaccinated status, we’ve seen lower rates of COVID-19 infection, as well as extremely low rates of serious illness at Tyson,” said Tom Brower, Tyson’s senior vice president of health and safety, and that in “recent weeks the number of active cases at Tyson has declined significantly,” in a memo to employees.
Tyson defines full vaccination status as two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna shots, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson shot, said Brower.
The company is hosting more than 100 clinics that offer booster shots and it “strongly encourages” booster shots for all employees.
Masks will be provided for employees who chose to wear them and will be kept on hand in case of new variants.
The company said it will soon let employees know which plants and offices will be affected by the change.