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.”

In Davie County, Ashley Furniture Inc. has had “a handful of” COVID-19 cases among its Advance workforce, according to spokesman Cole Bawek.

“We have no reported cases where transmission is believed to have occurred while working at our facility,” Bawek said.

“Out of caution, we have nonetheless asked associates who may have previously come in close contact with these associates to quarantine at home.”

Suzanne Wright, Davie County's health director, said that "since Ashley Furniture employs individuals from multiple counties, I can only confirm the one associated case that resides in Davie."

"A member of Ashley Furniture’s leadership staff reported Thursday that a 'handful' can be defined as less than 10 employees.

"The staff member reported that there is no consistent pattern of cases in one particular department or area of Ashley, and all confirmed cases are associated with close contact transmission outside of Ashley Furniture."

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.

At least 70 cases of COVID-19 are Forsyth County residents who either work at the Tyson plant or have come into close contact with someone who works there, according to the Forsyth Department of Public Health.

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.

Tyson’s Wilkesboro facilities are at least the seventh nationwide that the company 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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