It’s August 2021, and you might have hoped that we wouldn’t have to talk about COVID anymore. You might have thought we’d be ready to move on by now. But two news items that came up recently showed we still have a long way to go.

Earlier this week, Tyson Foods stated that all of its employees would either need to be vaccinated or face regular COVID testing protocols. FSIS then published a directive stating any personnel who come in contact with a federal inspector must wear masks “if located in an area of ‘substantial’ or ‘high’ community COVID-19 transmission” – which pretty much means most of the United States, if you’ve looked at a map of cases lately.

There are no federal mandates on what should or should not be done among businesses, so every business owner is going to have to come to a decision on how to proceed going forward. Tyson has already made its choice; considering how COVID outbreaks swept through large processing plants early on in the pandemic, I wouldn’t be surprised to see other big companies follow suit. Small processors will have their own decisions to make about this as well. If you and most of your workforce is vaccinated, you may not be at risk, but you may have employees who are immunocompromised or have family members who can’t get the vaccine. They may continue to wear masks indefinitely for their own safety.

For what it’s worth, based on personal experience, wearing a mask on a processing plant floor is much more comfortable than an obnoxious beard net, and it keeps your face warmer if you have to walk into a cooler for whatever reason. Keeping them around is not the worst idea from a food safety and employee safety standpoint.

Sam Gazdziak