Five members of the Bhutanese community in High Point who work at the Tyson Foods chicken-processing plant in Wilksboro have tested positive for the COVID-19, Triad City Beat has learned.
Dev Bhandari, a community leader who is organizing assistance, said one of the workers who tested positive has been at High Point Regional Hospital for about a week. The second worker tested positive on Thursday. Today, three others confirmed that they have contracted the virus.
Tyson Foods could not be reached before deadline for this story, but the company has confirmed at least one case to WXII 12. Tyson Foods employs 2,700 workers at the Wilkesboro plant, according to the company website.
About 10 members of the Bhutanese community in High Point make the 70-mile daily commute together in a van to work at the chicken-processing plant in Wilkesboro. Most are refugees who have settled in High Point in the past seven years, and many are family members. One of the employees, who provides transportation in a van, spoke to TCB on condition of anonymity due to concern that publishing his name could negatively affect his employment with Tyson Foods. His uncle was the first employee to test positive, but he and the remaining five employees are staying at home due to their potential exposure to the virus.
“My uncle was not feeling well,” the driver said. “They went to the hospital. Since they didn’t have an appointment they went back home. They were told: ‘You need to have an appointment.’ My uncle had a high fever overnight. They called 911 and took him to High Point Regional Hospital. Everybody went back to work except for him. I received a phone call at work saying he had COVID-19.”
The van driver said Tyson Foods has personnel stationed at entrances to take workers’ temperatures before they enter the facility and is providing handkerchiefs to workers.
The company said in a recent web post that employees have been expected to wear cloth face masks since early April, and that it received a new supply of face coverings that is expected to last up to four months.
The driver said the human-resources department has been contacting him regularly to check on the status of the infected workers in High Point.
Bhandari said due to a language barrier, the workers have not been able to determine whether Tyson Foods will pay them for the 14 days they are staying out of work.
“There is a possibility that more people will have positive results because all of them are in the same van,” Bhandari said. “There are a few other members of the community; they are coughing. They have not gone for the test yet. It looks like they are showing some symptoms. They are having fever and coughing. The guy who is positive right now in the hospital, he was walking around in his neighborhood.
Bhandari picked up hand sanitizer from Fainting Goat in Greensboro, as well as gloves and masks to provide for the families of the five workers, on Friday. He said he also obtained a $1,500 grant from Greensboro Mutual Aid to assist the families.
Bhandari said he is appealing to the city of High Point, nonprofits and community allies to support the affected families.
“We’re working on material support, like sanitizers,” he said. “Also, good wishes and prayer. It is a serious matter. It is important to support them on time. That is why I would like to request everybody to proactively come out if they are willing to help. Reach out to me…. Help them out on time.”