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Tyson joins Amazon and Walmart in lifting mask rules for vaccinated workers

Epidemiologist talks lifting mask mandates
Infectious disease specialist on mask wearing and vaccine efficacy 05:22

Tyson Foods is joining other major employers in dropping its mask requirement for fully vaccinated workers, the nation's largest meat producer told 137,000 employees on Tuesday.

"Starting today at some facilities, team members who are fully vaccinated can choose to remove their masks at work," Tom Brower, Tyson's senior vice president, health and safety, told U.S.-based employees in a memo. Masks will still need to be worn at some plants, depending on local laws and U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations, he added.

The company had mandated workers get vaccinated against COVID-19 as of November, "becoming one of America's first vaccinated workforces," Brower stated. Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson operates more than 240 facilities, a majority of them poultry processing plants.

Tyson's move follows those taken in recent days by Amazon and Walmart, both of which are no longer requiring fully vaccinated workers to wear masks unless required to do so by state or local mandates.

The rollbacks come as more U.S. states lift mask mandates and COVID-19 cases linked to the Omicron variant recede. 

Walmart told its roughly 1.6 million U.S. employees on Friday that those who are fully vaccinated would no longer have to cover their faces in any Walmart or Sam's Club facility, unless required by state or local ordinance. Unvaccinated workers and those in health clinics and pharmacies will still need to wear masks. 

"Though vaccinated associates are no longer required to wear a mask in our facilities, we support and respect an individual's choice to continue wearing one," the retailer said in its memo.

Walmart first mandated face coverings in July of 2020, then dropped the rule for fully vaccinated workers in May 2021 before reverting back to its prior policy as infections climbed due to Omicron. The company also said its COVID-19 emergency leave policy allowing for more paid sick leave for coronavirus-related absences is lapsing at the end of March. 

States are dropping indoor mask mandates, but is it premature? 05:19

Walmart's move to ease its mask rules came a day after Amazon notified fully vaccinated workers that they have the option of working without a face covering. The updated policy is contingent on local regulations and "based on guidance from public health authorities as well as our own medical experts," Amazon stated.

As of Friday, only Amazon employees who've received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine will be entitled to paid leave due to COVID-19, and only those who are fully vaccinated will be offered the benefit as of March 18, according to the company.

Amazon in August said all workers in its warehouses would have to mask up, regardless of their vaccination status. The policy change came amid a new wave of infections linked to the Delta variant. 

Multiple state governors in recent days have said they're eliminating mask mandates as virus cases and hospitalization rates fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends masking in public indoor settings in high-transmission areas, which still includes most of the country

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