A third worker has died after a COVID-19 outbreak at a central Alberta pork-processing plant, raising the total number of deaths linked to the outbreak to four, the union representing the plant’s employees has confirmed.
“Our investigation has revealed that a third worker from the Olymel Red Deer plant has died,” said UFCW 401 President Thomas Hesse on Wednesday.
The worker has not yet been publicly identified.
In an emailed statement Wednesday afternoon, Olymel spokesperson Richard Vigneault confirmed that three plant employees have now died after testing positive.
“It’s a very sad situation for the family and friends and colleagues, and Olymel is offering its sincere condolences to the families,” the statement read in part. “Olymel will remain available for assistance to support the families in this tragedy.”
Alberta Health has not yet confirmed the worker’s death.
Four deaths linked to outbreak
The Olymel outbreak, first declared on Nov. 17, has been linked to at least 500 cases, and led to the plant temporarily closing on Feb. 15.
The first death, on Jan. 28, was of Darwin Doloque, a 35-year-old permanent resident who immigrated to Canada from the Philippines and was found dead in his home.
His death was followed on Feb. 24 by that of Henry De Leon, a 50-year-old who immigrated from the Dominican Republic and had worked at the plant for 15 years. He left behind a wife, two adult children and three grandchildren.
The third death linked to the outbreak was a woman in her 60s who has not been publicly identified. It has not been disclosed 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, the site of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in Canada.
It was linked to three fatalities and at least 1,500 cases.
‘Action items’ suggested by union before reopening
Earlier this week, Hesse called for the Red Deer plant’s potential March 3 reopening to be delayed, saying in an open letter that employees do not feel safe after a deadly outbreak of COVID-19.
It listed more than 20 “action items” it said 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 Feb. 28 that if a March 1 inspection by AHS and Occupational Health and Safety was successful, gradual reopening dates for the Olymel plant could be March 3 for the slaughterhouse and March 4 for the cutting room.
However, the Olymel spokesperson told Radio-Canada that there is actually no set date to reopen the plant as the company is still waiting for a green light from AHS.
Vigneault clarified that some training will get underway Wednesday for employees regarding the reopening plan and the measures that will be in place.
The union told CBC News that it considers this to be a reopening in itself, because there are workers in the plant.
Hesse also directly addressed the plant’s decision to bring employees in for training rather than shift work on Wednesday, and suggested this was not always its intention.
“We’re happy to see Olymel responding to pressure from our union by cancelling their planned slaughter shift and providing the training we had called for,” Hesse said.
“We will continue advocating for our Olymel union members and pushing the company to fulfil all of the demands that we have identified need to happen in order to make the plant safe.”
Recommendations made by AHS ahead of reopening
The Alberta government confirmed to CBC News on Wednesday that Occupational Health and Safety had toured the facility on March 1, and again with Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the union on March 2.
“OHS continues to monitor Olymel to ensure 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 made safety recommendations to be implemented before the plant’s gradual reopening, though it has not confirmed when that opening is expected to be.
The measures recommended by AHS include:
- Implement capacity limits in lockers rooms and washrooms.
- Remove reusable dishes in break rooms.
- Enhance cleaning/disinfecting schedules of washrooms, break rooms and locker rooms.
- Add more hand sanitizing stations throughout.
- Increase education plan for staff, including staff training sessions, posters and other visuals.
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