Red Deer’s Olymel meat processing plant has identified 20 cases of COVID-19 among its employees since an outbreak began with Alberta’s second viral wave in mid-November.
Most of these people have recovered, but 10 workers are still away from the job recuperating from the virus, said Richard Vigneault, spokesman for Olymel. “We wish them a prompt recovery.”
He added an additional 19 employees are now isolating at home because they had close contact with some of the infected workers.
Contact tracing determined that most of the transmissions occurred in the community or local households and not at the plant, said Vigneault.
In total, 36 workers at Olymel have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Sick employees get paid through an insurance program, and Vigneault discussions are underway about offering those isolating at home the option of advancing some of their pay.
“We are working closely with AHS and the union to do everything that’s required,” he added. There’s growing concern about Alberta’s rapidly rising COVID-19 caseload, which is the worst in Canada, on a per capita basis.
“Considering there is a rise (of cases) in Alberta, we are being very prudent,” said Vigneault, who maintains Olymel has tested more than half of its 1,850 Red Deer workers on site on a voluntary basis since the second half of November.
“It was not compulsory. People could say ‘No,’ and we respected that.”
Vigneault said the goal was to try to curb infections before they spread within the plant, or out into the community, by identifying people who did not show symptoms but could be asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
According to Alberta Health Services, an outbreak was declared at Red Deer’s Olymel plant on Nov. 17.
Contact tracing was immediately initiated, and AHS Environmental Public Health Inspectors visited the site the next day to perform an inspection, and review the site’s mitigation measures and safety protocols.
AHS also initiated voluntary testing for employees, and worked with the City of Red to secure assisted self-isolation spaces in the community to support individual employees and/or their family members to appropriately isolate.
AHS considers Olymel to have “robust processes” in place to limit the spread of illness within their facility and has strict protocols regarding physical distancing, protective equipment, disinfection and other safety measures.
AHS continues to work with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), as well as Occupational Health & Safety (Government of Alberta), and Alberta Health, to ensure that outbreaks and incidents of COVID-19 illness in meat packing facilities are being addressed, and workers, families and communities, protected.
On-site viral testing has since wrapped up at Olymel, but workers are still being referred for off-site AHS testing if they have symptoms of COVID-19, or have had contact with people that turned out to be sick with the virus, said Vigneault.
“We are keeping up numerous sanitary measures” in the Red Deer facility, as well as Olymel’s five plants in Quebec, which have maintained a workforce of 95 per cent, he added.
Among the measures implemented at the Red Deer plant are mandatory masks and social distancing. There are also Plexiglas barriers between work stations and in the cafeteria. Vigneault said, “There’s handwashing and dozens of sanitary measures,” as well as keeping workers who are starting or ending their shifts separated.
(This version contains some corrected information).