Tyson Foods mask mandates lifted for most, but not meatpackers

Mask mandates are being eased due to low infection rates
calendar icon 16 February 2022
clock icon 2 minute read

Tyson Foods lifted a mask mandate for fully vaccinated employees at some US facilities on Tuesday, but those at meatpacking plants must continue wearing masks for now, reported Reuters.

The meat processor joins major employers like Amazon.com and Walmart in relaxing mask requirements.

Tyson said its policy applies to employees at facilities not inspected by the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The agency inspects meatpacking plants, a hot spot for COVID-19 outbreaks early in the pandemic.

Employees at corporate offices, distribution centres, feed mills and some production facilities inspected by the US Food and Drug Administration can go maskless if state and local laws allow it, Tyson spokesman Derek Burleson said.

The company will work with the USDA to potentially extend the policy to workers in meatpacking plants who are not in contact with government inspectors, Burleson said. He added that the policy does not yet impact most Tyson employees.

"We're definitely working with USDA on what this might look like at each of our FSIS-inspected facilities," Burleson said. "We're working to try to expand this to more facilities."

The USDA requires plant workers to wear masks when federal inspectors are present at facilities in geographic areas with "substantial" or "high" community COVID-19 transmission. An agency spokesman had no immediate comment on Tyson.

Tyson said it is easing mask mandates because of lower infection rates and "extremely low rates of serious illness" among employees. The company last year required workers to be vaccinated.

COVID-19 hit the US meatpacking industry hard at the start of the pandemic, when thousands of worker infections temporarily shut slaughterhouses. In January, rising cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant again forced plants to slow production.

Tyson said it will continue to provide masks for employees who choose to wear them and watch for new coronavirus variants. The company has said it spent $810 million on preventive COVID-19 measures.

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