A major Prairie hog slaughter and processing plant relatively untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic has marked its first case of the coronavirus in a production line worker.
Olymel, the meat packing arm of Quebec ag co-operative Sollio, said an employee who reported for work Monday last week at its Red Deer, Alta. plant began showing symptoms during the day, was sent home and was tested Tuesday for the virus.
The employee was confirmed Thursday last week as having COVID-19, Olymel spokesman Richard Vigneault said in an interview Tuesday. Another 13 employees who had been in contact with the worker were sent home that day to isolate out of precaution, he added.
Olymel, which in late March shut down its hog slaughter and cutting plant at Yamachiche, Que. for two weeks following a COVID-19 outbreak among employees, said the case is the first for the Red Deer facility since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Red Deer facility, which Olymel bought from Premium Brands in 2001, today employs about 1,500 people, Vigneault said. The plant has capacity to slaughter up to 45,000 hogs per week.
Protocols have been in place at the Red Deer plant throughout the pandemic, Vigneault said, including checkpoints for workers on arrival. “If there’s a nose running, we ask the person to go back home” and get tested, he said.
Other measures in place at the company’s plants include separators, face shields and masks for workers on the production line, as well as additional space to better manage distancing between employees, Vigneault said, adding that’s “probably why we haven’t had a case” at Red Deer until now.
Alberta provincial policy currently allows for anyone wishing to be tested for COVID-19 to seek a test, with or without symptoms.
With the school year set to begin in a few weeks, provincial chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw on Tuesday called for Alberta teachers and school staff to “book your test now and do not leave it to the last minute so the volume does not overload the system.”
On that note, however, she reiterated “to anyone who does not work not in a school setting who feels completely well and who has not had an exposure to COVID-19 — please hold off getting tested until later in September.”
As of late Monday, Alberta has seen 12,419 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, including 225 deaths. Cases deemed “active” sit at 1,169, with 48 people in hospital.
Of the province’s total cases to date, 563, including six deaths, have been in its central zone, which includes Red Deer. Of those cases, 87 are considered active with three in hospital. — Glacier FarmMedia Network