Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer is condemning racist sentiment in the city, which seems to be rising with the increase of local cases of the virus.
“We cannot let COVID divide us,” said Veer, as active COVID cases hit 559 on Tuesday — the highest per capita in all of Alberta.
Tensions seem to have mounted with cases in Red Deer climbing — at a time of pandemic fatigue, and when most other communities are seeing a drop in infections, said Veer.
The mayor, as well as officials at Olymel’s United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union, have heard local minorities are facing some racist backlash after the temporary shut-down of Red Deer’s meat processing plant, due to rising COVID-19 cases.
“It has tended to be against the Filipino community” because many workers of that ethnicity work at Olymel, said Scott Payne, a spokesperson with the UFCW Local 401.
Veer stressed that it’s hurtful and unproductive to single out minorities since the virus doesn’t pick who it infects — it spreads indiscriminately through all races.
“Instead of pointing the finger at each other, we need to be pulling together,” she stressed.
“It is absolutely imperative that we do not isolate out any specific group,” but share in the joint responsibility of following protective pandemic protocols, added the mayor.
Red Deer has also had a large number of outbreaks in care facilities, schools and other businesses, Veer noted. “None of us is immune to COVID.”
If local cases don’t start declining soon, she fears Red Deer will be left out as the province starts opening up and reducing restrictions for other communities with fewer active cases of COVID-19.
Thomas Hesse, president of the UFCW Local 401, has also spoken out against targeting minorities for the Olymel situation earlier this week, saying COVID should be considered an occupational disease.
Discrimination against minorities only serves to divert the discussion from the real issue, said Payne. By blaming car pools, gatherings and community spread, Payne believes people are ignoring that Olymel workers are regularly labouring in close, confined spaces.
While AHS has determined that the company has good pandemic protocols, the union believes more could have been done to inform recently hired workers about how to reduce spread.
Olymel spokesman Richard Vigneault previously stated he’s investigating rumours that a birthday party sparked the recent outbreak, but was unable to provide an update this week.
So far, no official cause has been linked to the COVID-19 outbreak at Olymel — and no timeline has been established for the plant’s reopening.