Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest food processors, has launched a first of its kind program using algorithms to ramp up testing on workers who show no symptoms for COVID-19.
Tyson did a trial run of the “testing as a tool” program at three plants in the summer and it was such a success that the company will expand it to all its facilities in the coming weeks. Using data science, the program selects which employees and how many employees will be tested each week. The number and the population will be adjusted based on results from its facilities and number of new cases in surrounding communities.
Testing employees without symptoms is one step the company is taking to keep its workers safe and its doors open. Tyson will continue to screen workers for COVID symptoms and perform diagnostic tests on employees who’ve been in contact with someone who is sick. The company also monitors its floors to make sure workers are keeping safe distances and wearing masks properly.
Additionally, Tyson is expanding its health staff. The company has a new chief medical officer and has added 200 nurses and administrative support staff to its existing health team. Workers will also receive extra counseling on healthy living. Tyson employs 120,000 people at 140 facilities throughout the United States.
Efficient Way to Test
Tyson developed its “testing as a tool” program with health care management provider Matrix Medical Network. Using data science to determine who and when to test makes complete sense for a company of its size, says Tyson spokesperson Gary Mickelson.
“It is virtually impossible to test everyone, every day,” Mickelson told Health Care News. “We have been testing employees probably more than any other company. We have tested about one-third of our workforce, most of it through one-time facility-wide testing, which provides only a snapshot.”
With the new system, Tyson expects to conduct thousands of tests each week, Mickelson says.
“By using data science to test a statistically sound sample of team members, we have a better chance of staying ahead of any potential virus spread and protecting our teams and communities,” Mickelson said.
As of mid-August, less than one percent of its U.S. workforce had active disease, Mickelson says.
“The objective is to stay ahead of the virus, to be on the offensive,” Mickelson said.
Tyson will test asymptomatic employees until COVID-19 is no longer a public health threat, Michelson says.
Companies and schools have contacted Tyson to learn more about its program. Additionally, the workforce has been pleased with the approach.
“Our team members tell us they feel especially supported by this scientifically sound combination of testing and monitoring,” stated Donnie King, Tyson Foods group president and chief administrative officer, in a company news release.
“The new monitoring program we helped Tyson create is a science-first approach that’s really on the cutting edge of how workplaces can best mitigate the risk of the virus,” stated Daniel Castillo, M.D., chief medical officer for Matrix Medical Network. “You’ll likely see many others adopt a similar approach in the coming months because it’s a process that looks both at people showing symptoms as well as those who do not.”
Using Algorithms to Decide Who to Test for COVID-19 (Guests: Scott Brooks and Dr. Daniel Castillo), The Heartland Daily Podcast, Augusts 20, 2020
AnneMarie Schieber (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor of Health Care News.