Olymel management has announced the temporary closure of its pork processing plant in Red Deer.
Despite the testing protocols and sanitary measures already in place, as well as the close collaboration of Alberta Health Services to deal with a resurgence of positive cases of COVID-19 among plant employees, Olymel management believes that the conditions are no longer assembled to continue normal operations in a safe and efficient manner, the company said in a news release Monday.
After notifying the union, Olymel management drew up an orderly temporary closing plan for an indefinite period.
Over the next few days, plant management will mobilize the staff necessary to cease operations and complete the facility closure as soon as possible.
The sanitary measures will continue to be in effect at the plant during the shutdown.
The number of cases has been climbing at the plant since Jan. 20 and the outbreak has led to one death.
There have been more than 300 cases of COVID-19 reported at the facility, said Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley following the company’s announcement.
“We have seen similar situations get out of control,” she said adding there are 1,850 employees in all at the plant, working in tight quarters.
Thomas Hesse, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union No. 401, called for a “circuit breaker” earlier in February to keep the virus from spreading further.
“I am glad the plant owners have finally listened to calls from the union and are shutting down the plant,” said Notley.
“We have seen a memo from Alberta Health Services indicating one-in-five workers at the plant may be infected with COVID-19 already and all efforts must be made to stop further spread.”
The company says it will follow up with all employees to ensure their quarantine period is being respected and will strongly encourage all staff to get tested before returning to work. Olymel will also continue ongoing investigations to determine what may have caused such a large outbreak of COVID-19 cases since Jan. 20.
Olymel management has also informed all hog suppliers of the Red Deer plant of the situation and has suspended all pending deliveries until further notice.