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

Salmon Arm man reported missing by RCMP has been found unharmed

Ken Derkach apologizes for having caused anyone concern

Preparations for flooding in the Shuswap accelerate

A sandbagging machine and a crew to run it have been set up in Silver Creek.

Severe thunderstorm watch in effect for Okanagan, Shuswap

Environment Canada is forecasting strong wind gusts, large hail and heavy downpours in parts of the Interior

From mouldy attics to giant wasp nests, Shuswap home inspector shares surprising finds

Salmon Arm’s Brad Campbell assembling photo gallery of disturbing discoveries

WorkSafe BC conducted 70 inspections in the Okanagan amid B.C.’s reopening plan

WorkSafe BC has conducted 100 inspections at restaurants across the province since May 19

11 new COVID-19 cases in B.C. as top doc urges caution amid ‘encouraging’ low rates

Dr. Bonnie Henry also announced that two care home outbreaks would be declared over

District offers safety tips after cougar spotted near Lake Country school

The animal was seen on a walking trail near Peter Greer Elementary Saturday morning

Surrey mayor’s party under fire for ‘sickening’ tweet accusing northern B.C. RCMP of murder

Mayor Doug McCallum says tweet, Facebook post ‘sent out by unauthorized person’

Father’s Day Walk Run for prostate cancer will be virtual event this year throughout B.C.

The annual fundraiser for Prostate Cancer Foundation BC has brought in $2.5 million since 1999

Similkameen winery co-owned by Dr. Bonnie Henry

B.C.’s provincial health officer is part of the original ownership group of Clos du Soleil in Keremeos

Emergency crews rush youth to hospital after quadding accident in West Kelowna

West Kelowna Fire Rescue’s new off-road vehicle was used in the rescue

Shuswap History in Pictures: Floodwater food run

A young boy rows through Sicamous’ streets during the 1972 flood.

Dr. Bonnie Henry announces official ban on overnight kids’ camps this summer

New ban comes after talking with other provincial health officials across the country, Henry says

Senior man in hospital after unprovoked wolf attack near Prince Rupert

Conservation officers are on site looking for the wolf

Most Read