State’s case total tops 3,000; Tyson outlines precautions

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

By Scott Loftis

Traditional high school graduations in Arkansas will have to wait until at least July, state education secretary Johnny Key announced Saturday, citing concerns over COVID-19.

Key joined Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily briefing in the governor’s conference room to announce the decision.

“It’s an event of great celebration,” Key said. “It’s cherished by students, by educators, by families. We celebrate the accomplishments of these students but we also look forward to their opportunities in the future. In many communities, the high school graduation is one of the most attended, one of the largest events in the community in the whole year. When you have friends, family members coming from across the state, and in many cases coming from out of state, for a traditional graduation ceremony, we simply cannot mitigate sufficiently the risk of spread in a situation like that. … So as the governor said, the traditional high school graduation ceremonies are restricted prior to July 1.”

Key said state officials will study data related to the spread of the virus as July 1 approaches to determine if that timeline needs to be modified.

“But right now, we’re asking all of our schools not to plan any traditional high school graduations prior to July 1,” he said.

On Monday, Hutchinson announced that the state now has 3,017 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 50 deaths. The total number of cases, which represented a 56.9 percent increase over a seven-day span, includes 856 inmates and 50 staff members from the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ maximum-security Cummins Unit in Lincoln County southeast of Little Rock.

In Carroll County, two more cases have been confirmed within the past week, according to the Arkansas Department of Health, bringing the county’s total to four confirmed cases. One case is listed as a recovery.

A spokesman for Tyson Foods, which operates poultry processing plants in Berryville and Green Forest, said Monday that the Springdale-based company was “not sharing specific numbers” regarding employee infections. Tyson last week suspended operations at its largest pork processing plant, in Waterloo, Iowa, as well as another pork processing plant in Logansport, Ind. Officials in Tennessee are monitoring COVID-19 clusters at two Tyson plants in that state, Nashville television station WZTV reported Monday.

“Since this is an ever-changing situation, we’re not sharing specific numbers,” Tyson spokesman Derek Burleson wrote in response to an email inquiry Monday. “If there is a confirmed case at one of our locations, we notify anyone who has been in close contact with the person. We also inform team members who have not been exposed and provide information to our supervisors so they can help answer questions.

“Our workplace safety efforts are significant and strictly enforced at all locations,” Burleson wrote. “We’re implementing social distancing in our plants based on CDC and industry guidance, such as increasing the distance between workers on the production floor, installing workstation dividers and barriers in our breakrooms. We’ve been evaluating and implementing ways to promote more social distancing and our efforts to keep team members safe include:

• Taking worker temperatures and installing more than 150 infrared walkthrough temperature scanners in its facilities.

• Securing a supply of face coverings before the CDC recommended their use and now requiring use in company facilities.

• Conducting additional deep cleaning and sanitizing in all company facilities, including break areas, cafeterias and restrooms.

• Implementing social distancing measures, such as installing workstation dividers, providing more breakroom space, erecting outdoor tents for additional space for breaks, and staggering start times to avoid large gathers as team members enter the facility.

• Designation of social distancing monitors (individual employees whose responsibility is to prompt compliance with recommended distancing)

• Relaxing our attendance policy to encourage workers to stay at home when they’re sick and eliminating the waiting period for eligibility on short-term disability benefits, so workers can receive pay while they’re sick with the flu or COVID-19.”

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