Outbreak linked to Cargill’s Case Ready plant in Calgary

Alberta noted 84 new coronavirus cases during its update on Friday, including five linked to the Cargill plant

Workers in Cargill's High River plant on the line in the spring of 2020. The photo, taken from a company presentation, shows the plastic barriers the company has installed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Five cases of COVID-19 were linked to Cargill’s Case Ready meat facility in Calgary on Friday afternoon.

“Widespread testing is underway. AHS and OHS have visited the plant and are making sure necessary measures are in place to reduce transmission and protect workers,” tweeted Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, on August 14.

Friday’s provincial update noted 84 new cases. That also included five cases at Fledglings Educare Centre, a child care centre in Calgary. As of August 13, the province was reporting 1,036 active cases, with 305 in the Calgary area, 497 in and around Edmonton, 103 in the north, 45 in the south, 81 in central Alberta. So far 221 people have died of the disease in the province and over 10,000 reported cases have recovered.

Hinshaw said public health officials are taking “swift action” to contain outbreaks. Contact tracing, “aggressive testing” and isolating anyone who may have been exposed are crucial to limiting the disease’s spread, she added.

Cargill’s Case Ready facility is separate from its High River facility, which saw a surge of coronavirus cases this spring that ultimately infected nearly half the plant’s work force, killed two workers and also killed the father of a plant worker. Ultimately Cargill’s High River plant shut down its lines for two weeks to deal with the outbreak, which, along with a slow-down at JBS in Brooks, created a backlog of cattle that the plants are still chewing through.

Cargill has also installed barriers between workstations and secured PPE for workers. While tension was high between plant management and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401 this spring, Thomas Hesse, union president, recently told CBC news that conditions have improved at the plant.

Daniel Sullivan, spokesperson for Cargill, said that the five people who tested positive are receiving medical care and are in isolation, CBC reported. Cargill is working with Alberta Health Services to test all employees and to make sure protocols around cleaning, prevention and quarantine are followed, he added.

Michael Hughes, UFCW Local 401 spokesperson, told CBC that Cargill did “learn some lessons” from High River this spring, and implemented safety measures at the Calgary facility. But any cluster in a workplace, particularly a meat plant, is a concern, he added.

Cargill has three federally inspected Case Ready facilities in Canada; the other two are located in Guelph, Ontario and Chambly, Quebec. The Case Ready plant workers prepare beef, pork and poultry for supermarket shelves.

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