‘Cautiously optimistic’: Outbreak at Calgary Cargill plant appears contained

CALGARY — An outbreak of COVID-19 at a Cargill meat-processing plant in Calgary appears to be under control.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical health officer, reported last week that five cases of the novel coronavirus had been recorded at Case Ready Meats, a Cargill plant that readies meat products for sale in western Canadian supermarkets.

It’s separate from the main plant at High River, which processes about 4,500 head of cattle a day — more than one-third of Canada’s beef-packing capacity.

Hinshaw said health and safety officials had visited the plant to make sure measures were in place to reduce transmission and protect workers.

Alberta Health Services said Wednesday the number of cases remained at five and three of the workers had recovered.

Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan said the last recorded case at the Case Ready plant, which has 400 workers, was Aug. 10.

“The plant is open and running at full capacity. We have offered testing to all of our employees in partnership with Alberta Health Services. There have been no new cases since the last confirmed case,” said Sullivan.

“At this time, there are no known workplace links between the five active cases. These individuals were not in regular contact with one another or working in the same areas.”

Cargill’s beef plant near High River, south of Calgary, shut down for two weeks in April because of an outbreak that initially affected 350 of its 2,200 workers.

Eventually nearly half of the workers contracted the virus and two employees died.

The plant reopened after bringing in safety measures that included temperature testing, physical distancing, cleaning and sanitizing.

An official with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, the union that represents workers at the plants, said the number of cases remaining steady at the Case Ready plant is encouraging.

“We’re working closely with AHS and Cargill, and while Cargill refuses to tell us who is positive, things are very different now than back in May at High River. Cargill is generally responsive to the concerns we raise,” said labour relations officer Michael Hughes.

“Because of that, we aren’t calling for closure. We’re still paying close attention to it, but lots of reasons to be cautiously optimistic.”

Cargill Ltd. is a subsidiary of U.S.-based Cargill Inc., one of the largest privately owned corporations in the United States.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 20, 2020

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