A small group of people gathered near the Olymel plant in Red Deer Sunday to remember those who have died due to the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.
Four burning candles sat on a table in the green space across the street from the pork-processing plant, as people remembered the four who have died.
“I’ve got a lot of history with that plant,” union representative Tony Evangelista said after the brief ceremony.
“There have been a lot of events here over the years. Unfortunately a lot of sad ones. More importantly I want to be here for (those who) have passed.”
Alberta Health Services declared an outbreak at the plant in mid-November, but cases started to ramp up in late January.
There have been about 500 COVID-19 cases connected to the outbreak overall with four fatalities, including three workers who have died.
Kyla Courte, one of the vigil’s organizers, said there are a lot of emotions people are going through right now due to these deaths.
“Grief. Sadness. Frustration. Empathy,” she said.
“So many people have been affected (by COVID-19), but today is really just about honouring these four specifically from right in our own community.”
The vigil was also about showing support to all Olymel employees, Courte added.
“I want them to feel safe and stay safe. They shouldn’t have to risk their lives by going to work. They shouldn’t have to be scared to go to work. They deserve peace and safety,” she said.
The plant began reopening this past week. The company pledged to continue working with Alberta Health Services and Occupational Health and Safety in order to fight the spread of the virus.
“Olymel management is pleased to confirm that most of the employees who have had COVID-19 since the outbreak began have recovered.” The company stated that it wishes a speedy recovery to those still affected.
For the three employees who have died after testing positive for COVID-19, the company offered its “deepest condolences to their families, friends and coworkers, and remains available to help them through this trying time.”
According to a recent NDP press release, the Olymel outbreak is now the deadliest linked to a meat-processing plant in Alberta during the ongoing pandemic.
The outbreak at High River’s Cargill plant last year saw two workers die and more than 1,500 cases of COVID-19 confirmed. That outbreak remains the largest in Canada since the start of the pandemic.