- Associated Press - Friday, May 15, 2020

WILKESBORO, N.C. (AP) - A poultry producer is temporarily closing a North Carolina plant for cleaning amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Tyson Foods spokesman Derek Burleson said in an email one of two fresh meat plants at its Wilkesboro complex was closed from Thursday to Tuesday. A second fresh poultry plant at the site will continue limited operations. Burleson said that a food-service plant at the site was operating normally Friday, though he had earlier said it would also close for several days.

The closure, following another temporary closure for cleaning, will allow “additional deep cleaning” due to sick workers and quarantine-related absences.

The company says staff will have additional virus testing, protective gear, symptom screening and access to nurse practitioners. The complex employs approximately 3,000.

It wasn’t clear exactly how many workers were sick. Wilkes County reported 286 residents testing positive overall, including 20 hospitalizations and 1 death. Earlier in the week, county officials said the plant was linked to most of its cases.

The Winston-Salem Journal reported health officials in nearby Forsyth County have said at least 70 cases there are either Tyson workers or people who came into contact with them

Statewide, health officials reported nearly 1,700 virus cases as of Friday at meat-processing plants in 17 counties. The state has declined to release plant names, citing a health confidentiality law. But officials at Smithfield, Mountaire Farms and Butterball have confirmed positive cases at North Carolina plants.

Overall, the state reported 17,000 cases including about 640 deaths and 500 current hospitalizations as of Friday.

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