The number of positive cases of COVID-19 has been climbing up since Jan. 20 at Red Deer's Olymel meat processing plant. (File photo by Advocate Staff)

Updated: Alberta union slams Olymel and AHS for handling of pork plant COVID outbreak

Alberta Federation of Labour demands meeting with premier and labour minister

Olymel’s Red Deer pork plant was not shut down earlier because health measures put in place after previous cases of COVID-19 had been successful, said the province’s top public health official on Tuesday.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw was asked in her daily update on Tuesday why the plant, which announced on Monday it was being shut down temporarily, was not closed sooner.

Hinshaw said there had been sporadic outbreaks at the plant previously and steps taken to prevent the spread had been successful with no additional cases reported for some time. There have now been more than 300 cases identified and one 35-year-old worker has died.

“Unfortunately, I think there was a concurrence of a number of events that were not limited to events directly on that plant site and therefore we did see an increase in cases.”

Hinshaw said local public health officials had been working with plant officials when the first cases emerged and efforts apeared to have paid off.

“For many months, there were no significant transmission events that had happened.”


Olymel temporarily shutting down Red Deer plant

COVID cases climbing at Red Deer pork plant

The Alberta Federation of Labour was sharply critical on Tuesday of the handling of the outbreak by Olymel and Alberta Health Services.

“Both the government and the company were more concerned about maintaining production and managing their public images than protecting the lives of workers or mitigating the threat that the outbreak posed to the broader public.”

McGowan wants a meeting with the premier and labour minister to ensure workplaces with COVID cases are shut down.

A statement from the labour group links to a letter from Alberta Health Services last week, which says on-site testing suggests one in five workers may have been infected. As of Feb. 10, there have been 297 cases at the plant with about 125 active cases, the Feb. 11 letter says.

The letter also states about 60 per cent of Olymel staff hold at least one other job outside the plant and those other employers must be notified of positive cases.

Hinshaw said on Tuesday she has been in contact with local health officials to ensure that plant workers have the support they need for isolation, quarantine or testing to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to other worksites as much as possible. They will also be told what financial compensation is available for those who cannot work.

“There is an intensive outreach happening right now to make sure all of those individuals impacted know all of the supports that they have available to them,” she said.

Olymel spokesman Richard Vigneault had no comment on AFL’s accusations.

Vigneault said company is continuing to have discussions with unions, AHS and Occupational Health and Safety and others who are involved in plant operations.

“We’re looking at the next steps to properly shut down the plant in the coming days,” he said, adding there may be more information coming out later this week.

Red Deer’s Olymel plant has been operating at less than half capacity for the last two weeks in response to the outbreak. It was not clear on Tuesday how many employees were still working shifts this week.

Labour and Immigration spokesperson Diane Carter said Occupational Health and Safety has inspected the Olymel facility 14 times since Nov. 17, both in person and remotely.

“Alberta Health Services inspectors have visited the site on multiple occasions since the start of the outbreak to review the company’s safety protocols and continue to be in daily, ongoing contact with Olymel,” said Carter. “OHS continues to work with the employer and employees to ensure health orders are followed and promote a safe workplace.”

AHS is also working with Red Deer health officials to provide support to Olymel families, including connecting individuals to family physicians, isolation assistance, and other social supports as required.

“OHS and Alberta Health Services will continue to assess this situation and determine what further measures might be implemented to further reduce the spread of COVID-19 in this and other similar workplaces.”

AHS has asked Olymel to require all employees who have not tested or not tested negative since Jan. 15 get tested “as soon as possible.”

Health authorities also remind that anyone testing positive must notify all of their employers. Any Olymel workers who work at a healthcare facility, such as hospital, long-term care facility or lodge must only work at one site until the outbreak at Olymel is declared over.

Red Deer city manager Allan Seabrooke told council on Tuesday that city administrators are meeting with AHS and Olymel officials to discuss the situation.

“They are working closely with us,” he said, adding there are meetings daily.

Seabrooke said the situation is very serious since one in five of Olymel’s 1,850 employees may be infected.

The city wants to help the company and its employees manage the situation. This means the city is providing transportation for Olymel employees who don’t have cars or driver’s licenses to a special off-site testing location.

Seabrooke said these workers can’t use public transit since they were potentially exposed to the virus and might have COVID-19.

Seabrooke said the Olymel testing site is not at Burnt Lake Trail. It is located in a different location than where other city residents are being sent for testing.

“It’s being dealt with separately.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

red deer city

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


Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, provided an update on COVID-19 and the ongoing work to protect public health from Edmonton on Tuesday, Feb. 16. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

Just Posted

Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced updated health measures Monday which are now in place for retail, hotels and community halls, performance groups, and youth sports as part of Step 2 of Alberta’s reopening plan. (File photo by Government of Alberta)
COVID restrictions for retail, sports and performers further eased

Occupancy in stores and malls boosted to 25 per cent from 15 per cent

The City of Red Deer sits at 249 active cases of the virus, after hitting a peak of 565 active cases on Feb. 22. (Black Press file image)
Active COVID cases in Red Deer continue to decline

249 cases in Red Deer, down from 565 peak on Feb. 22

(File photo)
Five Olds College students semi-finalists in marketing pitch competition

Winner of Second Annual UFA Student Pitch Competition to be announced April 13

Nordegg residents, including retired fisheries biologist Vance Buchwald, are concerned this kind of coal mining could start up in the wilderness area. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File).
Biologist urges Clearwater County to take a stand against Nordegg coal mining

Vance Buchwald said there’s no future in coal, the county should back eco-tourism

Quentin Lee Strawberry Photo from RCMP
Updated: Bleeding man came to door frantically calling for 911 help, neighbour testifies in murder trial

Quentin Strawberry on trial for second-degree murder accused of killing Joseph Gallant in 2019

Ben King scores for the Red Deer Rebels during the third period of a Western Hockey League game against the Calgary Hitmen at the Westerner Park Centrium Saturday. (Photo by Rob Wallator/Red Deer Rebels)
Rebels complete comeback to pick up first win of season

Rebels 3 Hitmen 2 (OT) The Red Deer Rebels were able to… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) checks Ottawa Senators' Chris Tierney (71) during third-period NHL action in Edmonton on Monday, March 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Oilers open three-game homestand against Senators with 3-2 victory

Oilers open three-game homestand against Senators with 3-2 victory

Dave Mercer poses in this undated handout photo. Fishing is Dave Mercer's passion. When he's not taping episodes for his fishing show, 'Dave Mercer's Facts of Fishing,' doing his podcast and weekly fishing tips, he can usually be found on the water. Mercer is also in his 11th year as an MC for the Bassmasters Classic and Elite Series and after watching Canadians Chris Johnston, of Peterborough, Ont., and Jeff Gustafson, of Kenora, Ont., capture tournament this in less than a year, Mercer is confident the third Canadian on the tour, Johnston's older brother, Cory, will win a circuit event either this year or next. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Dave Mercer Outdoors Inc.
Bassmasters Elite Series MC Dave Mercer enjoying Canadians’ success on circuit

Bassmasters Elite Series MC Dave Mercer enjoying Canadians’ success on circuit

Meghan McPeak, left, and Randy Urban do play-by-play for the Raptors 905 team in Mississauga, Ont., on Wednesday, January 25, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Toronto Raptors using all-female broadcast crew for televised game later this month

Toronto Raptors using all-female broadcast crew for televised game later this month

Toronto Six get another crack at Isobel Cup women’s hockey championship

Toronto Six get another crack at Isobel Cup women’s hockey championship

Canada's Mikael Kingsbury celebrates after finishing first in the final of the World Cup men's dual moguls skiing competition, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in Deer Valley, Utah. Canadian moguls star Kingsbury captured a gold medal for the fifth time at the world championships today.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Rick Bowmer
Mikael Kingsbury wins world men’s moguls championship

Mikael Kingsbury wins world men’s moguls championship

A Canadian Premier League soccer ball is shown on a podium in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Canadian Premier League/Chant Photography *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Canadian Premier League offers first look at its bottom line

Canadian Premier League offers first look at its bottom line

Team Manitoba skip Jason Gunnlaugson directs his team as he plays Team Wild Card One at the Brier in Calgary, Alta., Monday, March 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta’s Bottcher hands Wild Card Three’s Middaugh his first loss at the Brier

Alberta’s Bottcher hands Wild Card Three’s Middaugh his first loss at the Brier

Rheal Cormier, left, receives his jacket from Ferguson Jenkins during his induction to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., on June 23, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley
Former Canadian major-leaguer Rheal Cormier dies after battle with cancer

Former Canadian major-leaguer Rheal Cormier dies after battle with cancer

Most Read