More than 200 cases of COVID-19 and the death of a 30-year-old man have been linked to the Olymel pork processing plant in Red Deer, Alta.
The outbreak at the Olymel facility was declared on Nov. 17 – the man in his 30s died two months later on Jan. 28. Alberta Health Services said the worker did not have any pre-existing health conditions.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 (UFCW 401) had called for the slaughterhouse to shut down and cease production with full compensation for union members last week.
“The Olymel plant is yet another tragedy,” said UFCW 401 president Tom Hesse to CTV News. “We’re just starting to connect the dots here, wondering what’s going on.”
And it’s not just the Olymel plant.
The Cargill meat plant in High River is in the midst of another outbreak – with 14 cases of COVID-19 recorded.
Last spring saw 950 Cargill staff test positive for COVID-19 – three people linked to the plant died, making it the largest outbreak in the country.
In Ontario, 95 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded amongst staff at the Belmont Meats Plant in Toronto, nine of which are of the U.K. variant.
Food Safety and Security Expert at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia Sylvain Charlebois said the very nature of meat processing plants makes them a massive risk of infection for COVID-19.
“The challenge with these plants is that the working environment is very humid, there’s lots of moisture…it’s the perfect environment for the virus to spread,” Charlebois said to CTV News.
Union boss Hesse wants the Olymel plant to shut down for two weeks and for workers to be paid to isolate, noting that plant workers tend to come from vulnerable communities.
“These are new Canadians, racialized Canadians, vulnerable workers,” Hesse said. “They’re going to work with a pint of terror in their stomachs every day.”