Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer gave an update on Olymel’s COVID-19 situation on Wednesday. (File photo by Advocate staff).

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer gave an update on Olymel’s COVID-19 situation on Wednesday. (File photo by Advocate staff).

Red Deer Mayor urges more vigilance at this ‘critical’ stage of the pandemic

Tara Veer said the city has ‘levers,’ but will stay out of workplace decisions about viral spread

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer expressed concern about the 300-plus COVID-19 cases linked to Olymel and thanked the meat processing company for its voluntary temporary shut-down.

But she said the City of Red Deer will not step into workplace situations to try to ensure that outbreaks, as happened at Olymel, do not reoccur.

“Obviously, as a municipality, we can pull some levers,” said Veer during a video press conference on Wednesday.

But Veer said, the City of Red Deer will continue relying on health experts at Alberta Health Services to assess what should happen when the new coronavirus is spreading throughout a workplace.

She urged city residents and business owners, “despite their weariness,” to remain vigilant and reduce opportunities for viral transmission.

“We are at a critical stage in the community,” stressed Veer, who added the actions taken by Red Deerians now will determine what the local COVID-19 case level will be at in 10 to 14 days.

Red Deer, one-tenth the size of Edmonton or Calgary, now has almost one-third the cases of those large centres.

The city had reached a second-wave high of 434 active cases in mid-December. As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 454 active cases.

While the City of Red Deer cares about the community’s well-being and the hospital’s ability to provide care — Veer noted Red Deer hospital is now handling two-thirds of COVID cases in the region, compared to only half or less, as was normal —“we are not a health authority and we don’t have the details” to make an assessment, added the mayor.

However, she noted that the City of Red Deer is getting involved in other ways to assist AHS, Alberta Occupational Health and Safety, Olymel and its workers.

Veer said the municipality is meeting regularly with all the parties and is providing transportation to a testing centre for Olymel employees who don’t have their own vehicles or driver’s licences and can’t use public transit, as they could be contagious.

The city is also helping to connect people to social service agencies that can help them with income supports and housing. The city is linking Olymel employees who need interpretation to translation services to ensure they are aware of all the pandemic protocols they need to be following.

Veer noted that Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, has stated that the spread of the virus at Olymel is a complex problem involving a “concurrence of events” — meaning all of the spread did not occur in the workplace.

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