Spokesman Gary Mickelson told The Associated Press that three of the employees worked at the company’s chicken processing plant in Camilla, while the fourth person worked in a supporting job outside the plant.
He declined to say how many workers there have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, commonly referred to as the novel coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2.
Two other Tyson Foods workers died from the virus at its plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa.
“We’re deeply saddened by the loss of two team members at our Columbus Junction plant. Their families are in our thoughts and prayers,” Tyson Foods said in a statement to The Hill.
In an earlier statement, Tyson Foods CEO Noel White said the company shuttered the Columbus Junction facility after several COVID-19 infections were confirmed.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we have suspended operations at our Columbus Junction, Iowa, pork plant this week due to more than two dozen cases of COVID-19 involving team members at the facility. In an effort to minimize the impact on our overall production, we’re diverting the livestock supply originally scheduled for delivery to Columbus Junction to some of our other pork plants in the region,” White said.
The company said it had implemented more stringent safety protocols in the face of the outbreak.
“We’ve been taking the temperature of workers at all of our locations before they enter company facilities. We’re mostly using temporal thermometers but at a few locations we’re beginning to implement infrared temperature scanners. In addition, we’ve stepped up deep cleaning and sanitizing of our facilities, especially in employee breakrooms, locker rooms and other areas, to protect our team members,” White said, adding, “This additional cleaning sometimes requires suspending at least one day of production.”
American workers who process the nation’s meat have proven especially susceptible to the new virus, as they work shoulder-to-shoulder on production lines.
Multiple U.S. plants have been shut because of outbreaks, including a hog slaughterhouse owned by Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which processed some 5 percent of America’s pork.
Smithfield, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chinese company WH Group, said it closed down the Sioux Falls facility after dozens of workers daily were testing positive for the virus.
After the closure of the Sioux Falls plant, Smithfield announced that it would close two more of its plants, which source some of their inputs from the South Dakota facility.
The shutdowns show the domino effect that can occur when the closure of a major slaughterhouse affects the supply of raw materials for the next stage of processing.
“It highlights the interdependence and interconnectivity of our food supply chain. Our country is blessed with abundant livestock supplies, but our processing facilities are the bottleneck of our food chain. Without plants like Sioux Falls running, other further processing facilities like Martin City cannot function,” said Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan in a statement.
Food supply chains have seen disruption amid the outbreak. Demand for meat at grocery stores has spiked as more people stay home under advisories or lockdowns, while food-service industry demand, which includes restaurants and airlines, has evaporated amid closures.
As farmers struggle to adapt, this has led to conflicting scenes of empty store shelves, while elsewhere food is being thrown away or milk poured down drains.
Industry experts say it is not so much a question of shortages as producers finding it difficult to adapt operations quickly to supply products in supermarket-sized packages for retail customers.
“I would say that there’s still a lot of meat on the market,” said Christine McCracken, senior director for animal protein at RaboResearch, in remarks to NPR. “Quite a bit of meat, actually; pork, chicken, and beef.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.