Coronavirus: Surge in High River cases believed to be result of in-home transmissions

Click to play video: 'Hinshaw announces surge in COVID-19 cases in High River' Hinshaw announces surge in COVID-19 cases in High River
During her daily update on COVID-19, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced a surge in cases in High River. – Apr 17, 2020

Editor’s Note: In an earlier version of this story, Global News incorrectly reported the total number of confirmed cases in High River. In fact, there are 207 cases in the town of High River, while 358 cases are linked specifically to Cargill Meat Solutions and involve people and households outside High River. Global News regrets the error.

The number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the southern Alberta town of High River has seen a significant surge, due in large part to an outbreak at the local meat-packing plant.

According to Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, 358 cases have been linked to the Cargill Meat Solutions plant, involving workers and their households.

High River now has 207 positive cases, according to Alberta Health data.

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

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“There are now 358 cases linked to this outbreak, involving “multiple connected households,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Friday.

“Some of these households are in surrounding communities such as Calgary, and current information suggests that the cases in this outbreak are primarily linked to household transmission.”

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Hinshaw said a dedicated outbreak response team has been assigned to track the outbreak and prevent any further spread of the virus.

The Cargill facility restricted operations earlier this week, in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, eliminating one entire shift from its rotation.

At the time, the union representing workers at the plant, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 (UFCW), said there were 38 cases among staff, though the company didn’t confirm any numbers, only saying there were employees who had tested positive.

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

Following Hinshaw’s announcement of the spike in cases, the Opposition NDP called on the UCP government to temporarily close the Cargill plant until it’s deemed safe for workers to return.

“Employers have a legal responsibility to keep their workers safe at work,” labour critic Christina Gray said.

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“Jason Kenney and the UCP government have sat on their hands and the situation in High River has gotten much worse.”

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

Gray said the government ignored the UFCW’s calls to have the plant closed for two weeks to allow time for a proper pandemic response plan to be put together.

The Kenney government shared its “intergovernmental business resumption protocol” for provincially or federally licensed food processing facilities in Alberta on Thursday.

READ MORE: Alberta sees 2 more COVID-19 deaths Thursday; companies at outbreak sites complying

In addition to closing the plant, the NDP said the UCP government should ensure that the affected employees are compensated during the closure, and that the company publicly report the steps it plans to take to ensure the safety of its employees and the surrounding community.

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READ MORE: High River on edge as COVID-19 cases soar

Health officials in Alberta completed 3,831 COVID-19 tests in the past 24 hours, Hinshaw said.

Global News has reached out to both Cargill Meat Solutions and the UCP government for comment on this story. This story will be updated when we get a response.

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