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

Commercial plaza proposed for Rocky Creek and Ludlow intersection

Town Council directed the application proceed for further consideration

Symphony pop-up concerts coming to Saltair

Only 40 tickets available so get them soon if you’re interested

South Wellington Elementary demolition not taking place next school year

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public School trustees vote against razing south-end school in 2020/21

One piper piping during the pandemic

Tribute to health care workers reaches the 100th performance

Town of Ladysmith receives $3.3 million grant for Arts & Heritage Hub

The funds will go to creating artist studios around the Machine Shop and maintaining heritage assets

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

We’re asking you to lock arms with us, as we look to better days ahead

Shellfish industry get funds to clean up at Island sites and beyond

Businesses can apply to cover half of costs to clean up so-called ‘ghost gear’

BREAKING: Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Grocers appear before MPs to explain decision to cut pandemic pay

Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains have defended their decision to end temporary wage increases

RCMP ‘disappointed’ by talk that race a factor in quiet Rideau Hall arrest

Corey Hurren, who is from Manitoba, is facing 22 charges

NHL’s Canadian hubs offer little economic benefit, but morale boost is valuable: experts

Games are slated to start Aug. 1 with six Canadian teams qualifying for the 24-team resumption of play

‘Made in the Cowichan Valley’ coming to a wine bottle near you

Cowichan Valley has the honour of being the first sub-GI outside of the Okanagan

Most Read