Olymel’s Red Deer plant holds at one COVID case

Pork plant employee's contacts returning to work

A production line employee at Olymel’s hog slaughter plant at Red Deer, Alta. remains the facility’s lone COVID-19 case after her contacts at the plant tested negative for the virus, the company says.

Olymel, the meat packing arm of Quebec ag co-operative Sollio, confirmed the lone COVID-19 case at its Red Deer site on Aug. 14.

The worker in question, who’s now isolating at home, reported for work Aug. 10 and began showing symptoms later in the day, company spokesman Richard Vigneault said. The employee was sent home, was tested and was confirmed Aug. 13 as positive for COVID-19.

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Another 13 employees who had been in contact with the worker were sent home that day to isolate out of precaution, he said Thursday.

The company was informed Thursday afternoon that all 13 of that group had tested negative and may now return to work, he added. The plant, Olymel said, is “continuing its operations.”

Olymel said Thursday it has taken measures at Red Deer since early March to limit potential transmission, including temperature checks, regular disinfection of common areas and adjusting schedules to avoid workers crossing paths during shift changes.

Production staff are also wearing masks and face shields and working amid plexiglass dividers, the company said, adding it’s “convinced that the rigorous application of all these measures since last March has helped prevent contamination to date.”

Alberta public health and occupational health and safety officials toured the plant Tuesday following the confirmation of the lone COVID case “and were satisfied with the measures put in place,” Olymel added.

Olymel and other federally-licensed meat processors with export customers have reason to be wary of COVID-19’s spread — and not only given the risk of major outbreaks among staff, as were seen at two of Canada’s biggest beef slaughter plants in Alberta earlier this year.

China, a major pork importer, has recently moved to curb its imports from plants reporting positive COVID cases, though there’s no evidence of the virus’ spread via food products.

Maple Leaf Foods’ major hog slaughter and packing plant at Brandon, Man., for one, has halted its pork exports to China following a number of COVID-19 cases among workers, though provincial officials say there’s no evidence of transmission within the workplace.

The Olymel plant at Red Deer is licensed for export to China as well as to the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, Malaysia, Vietnam, Australia, Ukraine, Peru and South Africa.

Olymel itself in late March shut down its hog plant at Yamachiche, Que. for two weeks following a COVID-19 outbreak among employees there.

Olymel said Thursday it continues to recommend its employees “take all necessary precautions to protect themselves both inside and outside the facility at Red Deer.”

Alberta, from the start of the pandemic, has booked 12,604 positive cases of COVID-19, of which 1,084 are deemed active as of Thursday, with 43 in hospital. Among its total cases, 228 people have died of the virus.

The province’s central reporting region, which includes Red Deer, has seen 565 cases since the start of the pandemic, of which 33 are considered active as of Thursday, with three people in hospital. Of the area’s total cases, seven people have died. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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Dave Bedard

Editor, Daily News, Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.

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