Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the COVID-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

‘A difficult decision:’ Alberta meat-packing plant pausing production after COVID-19 outbreak

Cargill’s High River plant, which employs about 2,000 workers, has 360 cases of the novel coronavirus

A meat-packing plant in southern Alberta where a worker died because of COVID-19 is temporarily shutting down as the result of an outbreak at the facility.

Cargill’s High River plant, which employs about 2,000 workers, has 360 cases of the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical health officer, said the impact of the illness has grown worse.

“There has also been spread in the community beyond these workers, with 484 cases linked to that outbreak,” Hinshaw said.

“Not all of these cases are people that work at that plant. Many of these cases live in surrounding communities such as Calgary. Many of the cases identified in the Calgary zone over the weekend were linked to this broader outbreak.”

Hinshaw announced the Cargill death at a provincial news conference on Monday.

She said control measures have also been put in place at the JBS Foods meat-packing plant in Brooks, Alta., where 67 cases have been confirmed.

A spokesman for Cargill called the shutdown a difficult decision, as the plant is considered an essential service.

“Considering the community-wide impacts of the virus, we encourage all employees to get tested for the COVID-19 virus as now advised by Alberta Health Services as soon as possible,” Jon Nash said in a statement.

Production is to stop once meat already in the plant is processed to avoid any food waste.

“We will process approximately three million meals currently in our facility as quickly as possible. We greatly appreciate our employees who are working to complete this effort,” he added.

It’s not clear how long the plant will be shut down, but the company did say workers would be paid according to their collective agreement.

The plant, just north of the town of High River, processes about 4,500 head of cattle per day — more than one-third of Canada’s beef-processing capacity.

Cargill had earlier announced a shut down of a second shift of workers and the implementation of a number of new safety protocols, including temperature testing, enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, use of face coverings, screens between employee stations and prohibiting visitors.

The president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union 401, which represents the Cargill employees, said the shutdown is better late than never. But he still has many questions.

“We still have grave concerns about their transparency. What are they saying to their workers … what does the future look like?” said Thomas Hesse.

“It isn’t just about pausing the plant … creating economic anxiety among these vulnerable workers is another problem.”

The union had been calling on Cargill to shut the plant down for two weeks to allow workers to self-isolate and to give the plant a thorough cleaning.

Hesse said three-quarters of members expressed concern about their safety during a union conference call Sunday.

He added that he wants an independent third party to look at the plant and give an assessment.

An official with the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Alberta said the shutdown is overdue, since cases at Cargill were causing a cross-contamination of another essential service in the town of 12,000 people.

Lou Arab said five employees at Seasons Retirement Communities in High River have tested positive for COVID-19. Three of them are married to meat-packing workers.

“The plant needs to be shut down until they figure out what’s going on and until they know it has been made safe,” Arab said.

“It’s going beyond the plant and it’s going into the community.”

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

AlbertaFood

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rotary Club launches Fernie wide scavenger hunt

The City Ramble Trail Scramble encourages participants to explore Fernie’s trails and streets

City of Fernie recycles old concrete

Hadean Aggregate Solutions was in Fernie for three days recycling old concrete and asphalt

MP Morrison pushes for accountability following federal fiscal update

Kootenay-Columbia parliamentarian says it is time to restart the economy

UPDATED: Interior Health to add 495 long-term seniors care beds

Nelson, Kelowna, Kamloops, Vernon and Penticton to receive new facilities

No changes coming to Fernie’s Second Avenue

Following a public survey, council holds off on repurposing Second Avenue

Recent surge in COVID-19 cases not unexpected amid Phase Three of reopening: B.C.’s top doc

Keep circles small, wear masks and be aware of symptoms, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. NDP changing WorkSafeBC regulations to respond to COVID-19

Employers say reclassifying coronavirus could be ‘ruinous’

Baby raccoon rescued from 10-foot deep drainage pipe on Vancouver Island

‘Its cries were loud, pitiful and heartbreaking,’ Saanich animal control officer says

Statistical flaws led to B.C. wolf cull which didn’t save endangered caribou as estimated

Study finds statistical flaws in an influential 2019 report supporting a wolf cull

Windows broken, racist graffiti left on Okanagan home

Family says nothing like this has happened since they moved to Summerland in 1980s

B.C. man who went by ‘Doctor Ray Gaglardi’ charged with sex assault of teenage boys

The man, 75, is accused of assaulting teenage boys he met through Coquitlam-area churches

B.C.’s potential deficit $12.5 billion as spending spikes, taxes drop

Finance Minister Carole James gives COVID-19 outlook

Commercial huckleberry harvesting restricted in Kootenays

The province of B.C. has banned commercial-scale picking from July 15 to October 15

Canadians torn on scaling back COVID-19 benefits to save money: poll

Of those surveyed, 78 per cent said they were worried about the size of the deficit

Most Read