At least 220 workers at the Tyson Foods plant in Sherman have tested positive for COVID-19, with some of those infected living in surrounding communities throughout Dallas-Fort Worth, NBC 5 Investigates has confirmed.
Some employees at the plant had already tested positive for the virus when, just over two weeks ago, the state conducted a large round of tests on more than 1,600 workers over a two-day period, Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said.
The results showed that 220 came back positive and three showed to be inconclusive, Magers said.
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Only 97 of those infected live in Grayson County, with the rest residing in outlying areas, some believed to be as far away as Dallas County, NBC 5 Investigates has been told.
Tyson confirmed one of its workers died of COVID-19, but declined to say how many others are sick or have tested positive.
NBC 5 Investigates talked to one of the stricken workers, Gabriel Campos, who left the hospital this week, showing signs of a strong recovery after being treated with the drug remdesivir.
"After about 24 hours, I was already… on room air. I didn’t need the breathing machine no more," Campos said. “So I was just so sick, man. I’m still trying to get all my wits back."
Magers said just four weeks ago there were only seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the sprawling Tyson plant – home to about 1,750 workers.
After that, he said, “we saw the numbers climbing.”
The county judge said he was impressed with the way Tyson officials responded.
“They’re taking the steps they need to take as a business to keep their employees safe,” he said., "The reality is we need them to be working because we want to eat, and we need the food processing that takes place.”
After outbreaks at plants across the country, Tyson has rapidly transformed its facilities, installing dividers to protect workers and requiring face coverings.
There’s no way to tell if a worker caught the virus on the job or someplace else.
But some health experts believe COVID-19 may thrive in cool, refrigerated environments, such as inside meat processing plants, though much about the virus is still unknown.
“I think they’re doing all they can do. I just think it’s the nature of the beast to a certain extent,” Magers said.
Home from the hospital, Campos learned his three young stepsons have also tested positive for the virus.
Campos said he hoped everyone would be better soon, so he can get back to work -- confident Tyson is taking the right steps to protect its workers.
“They’re doing what they’re supposed to do. And, you know… that’s a big company. We’re feeding the world,” he said.
While Tyson declined to confirm the number of workers who have tested positive, they said the company would do that later after consulting with officials.
Tyson issued the following statement.
"The health and safety of our team members, their families and communities is our top priority...we have put in place a host of protective measures that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance."
State officials said a health clinic has been set up on the Tyson property for workers, and the Texas Division of Emergency Management said it's prepared to return and conduct widespread testing again if needed.