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High River mayor says COVID-19 cases likely linked to workers at Cargill meat processing plant

Click to play video 'Mayor says High River COVID-19 cases likely linked to workers at Cargill meat processing plant' Mayor says High River COVID-19 cases likely linked to workers at Cargill meat processing plant
WATCH: The mayor of High River says the high number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in his community likely stems from infected workers at Cargill’s meat packing plant. But as Tomasia DaSilva reports, he doesn’t believe shutting the plant down now would do much good – Apr 15, 2020

High River is dealing with a growing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and the town’s mayor believes the reason may be connected to the nearby meat processing plant.

“My guess would be that most of the transmission is taking place at home — with the Cargill workers,” Mayor Craig Snodgrass told Global News.

The Cargill meat processing plant just outside of town employs thousands of workers.

The company confirmed some of them have tested positive for the virus, although it didn’t specify how many.

The union representing its workers, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, said there were 38 diagnoses at the facility as of last Sunday.

Cargill officials couldn’t say if those positive cases are leading to community spread.

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“We can’t say for sure,” Jon Nash said. “But I do believe that the controls we put in place are certainly helping to mitigate that.”

READ MORE: Alberta meat plant making changes after union calls for more COVID-19 protection for workers

Nash told Global News the plant is doing all it can to make sure its workers and the community remain safe.

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“We have temperature checks before going in. We have barriers between work stations, intense sanitation continuously through the day.”

Click to play video 'AHS to set up dedicated COVID-19 assessment centre at Cargill meat plant' AHS to set up dedicated COVID-19 assessment centre at Cargill meat plant
AHS to set up dedicated COVID-19 assessment centre at Cargill meat plant – Apr 15, 2020

Cargill has also shut down one of its shifts — running just one shift per day instead of the two it normally has.

Snodgrass acknowledges the company has taken steps to mitigate the risks and added closing the plant down now — like the union is asking for — wouldn’t work.

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“We’re past the point of a shutdown being any kind of a solution to where we’re at today,” he added. “I mean we’re into it now — that ship has sailed.”

Nash said closure isn’t off the table if that’s what is needed to keep workers and the community safe.

“While we do have a really important responsibility to feed people — the Canadian consumer needs food, and our farmer and rancher partners absolutely need an outlet for their livestock — at the end of the day, what I can tell you is we absolutely will not operate this facility if it is not safe to do so.”

WATCH: High River on edge as COVID-19 cases soar

Cargill has been working closely with Alberta Health Services to control the outbreak.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Wednesday AHS would be setting up a dedicated COVID-19 assessment centre this week to increase testing at the plant.

“COVID-19 is not a food-borne illness,” Hinshaw added. “There is no risk to the public from food produced at these facilities.”

Snodgrass said the community will deal with what has already happened. He added what is needed now is for those who work at the plant and those who don’t to stay home when sick so it doesn’t spread to hospitals or long-term care centres.

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“You have to stay at home. You cannot be in the community. There is just no question, that is a must. No question.”