Fourth death linked to COVID-19 outbreak at Alberta meat processing plant, union confirms
A third worker has died after a COVID-19 outbreak at a pork processing plant in central Alberta, bringing the total number of deaths linked to the outbreak to four, the union representing the employees of the COVID-19 confirmed. factory.
“Our investigation revealed that a third worker at the Olymel Red Deer factory has died,” UFCW 401 president Thomas Hesse said on Wednesday.
The worker has not yet been publicly identified.
In a statement emailed Wednesday afternoon, Olymel spokesperson Richard Vigneault confirmed that three plant workers have now died after testing positive.
“It is a very sad situation for family, friends and colleagues, and Olymel offers its sincere condolences to the families,” the statement read in part. “Olymel will remain available to help families in this tragedy.”
Alberta Health has yet to confirm the worker’s death.
Four deaths linked to an epidemic
The Olymel outbreak, first declared on November 17, 2020, has been linked to at least 500 cases and led to the plant’s temporary shutdown on February 15.
The first death, on January 28, is that of Darwin Doloque, a 35-year-old permanent resident who immigrated to Canada from the Philippines and was found dead at his home.
His death was followed on February 24 by that of Henry De Leon, a 50-year-old man who immigrated from the Dominican Republic and who had worked at the factory for 15 years. He left behind a wife, two grown children and three grandchildren.
The third death linked to the outbreak was a woman in her 60s who has not been publicly identified. It was not revealed how she was linked to the outbreak.
The outbreak at the Olymel plant is now deadlier than the outbreak at the Cargill meat processing plant near High River, Alta., The site of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in Canada .
The Cargill outbreak was linked to three deaths and at least 1,500 cases.
“ Measures to be taken ” suggested by the union before the reopening
Earlier this week, Hesse called for delaying the potential reopening of the Red Deer plant on March 3, saying in a open letter that employees do not feel safe after a deadly COVID-19 outbreak.
He listed more than 20 “actions” which, according to him, should be fulfilled before reopening is considered, in order to regain the confidence of employees and ensure their safety.
The letter came after plant manager Rob Ackerblade informed employees on February 28 that if a March 1 inspection by Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Occupational Health and Safety was successful, the dates for the gradual reopening of the Olymel plant could be March 3 for the slaughterhouse and March 4 for the cutting room.
However, Olymel’s spokesperson told Radio-Canada that there is in fact no set date for the plant to reopen as the company is still awaiting the green light from AHS.
Vigneault said training will begin Wednesday for employees on the reopening plan and the measures that will be in place.
The union told CBC News it considers this to be a reopening in and of itself because there are workers at the plant.
Hesse also directly addressed the plant’s decision to bring in employees for training rather than shift work on Wednesday and suggested that was not always his intention.
“We are happy to see Olymel responding to pressure from our union by canceling their scheduled slaughter shift and providing the training we requested,” said Hesse.
“We will continue to stand up for our Olymel union members and push the company to respond to any demands that we have identified as necessary to make the plant safe.”
Recommendations made by AHS before reopening
The Alberta government confirmed to CBC News on Wednesday that occupational health and safety visited the facility on March 1, and again with AHS and the union on March 2.
“OSH continues to monitor Olymel to ensure that safety protocols and measures continue to be used to limit the spread of COVID-19,” Joseph Dow said in an emailed statement.
According to Dow, AHS has made safety recommendations to be implemented before the plant’s gradual reopening, although it has not confirmed when that opening is expected to take place.
Actions recommended by AHS include:
- Implement capacity limits in locker rooms and washrooms.
- Remove reusable dishes from break rooms.
- Improve cleaning / disinfection schedules for toilets, rest rooms and changing rooms.
- Add more hand sanitizing stations everywhere.
- Increase staff training plan, including staff training sessions, posters and other visuals