Coronavirus: Employee at Cargill plant died within days of feeling ill, union says another is critical

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WATCH: New details are emerging, along with calls for action, in light of the COVID-19 death of an employee at the Cargill meat plant. Some say the shut down didn’t come soon enough. Jill Croteau reports – Apr 21, 2020

The woman in her late 60s who worked at the Cargill meat plant and died from COVID-19 commuted daily to High River from her home in Calgary.

When she left work on Thursday, nobody knew it would be her last shift.

READ MORE: 1 death connected to Cargill meat plant in High River as plant ‘idles’ processes

Community organizations working with Cargill employees shared more details with Global News.

Marichu Antonio, executive director for ActionDignity, said the woman called in sick on Friday, was rushed to hospital on Saturday and passed away Sunday evening.

Out of respect for the family, the group isn’t releasing names. The woman’s husband is grieving and showing symptoms of the virus.

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“We are helping him look for affordable funeral service and taking care of that,” Antonio said.

“Also making sure he’s OK and his health is OK and he has the food he needs.”

Click to play video: 'Cargill meat plant temporarily closing amid COVID-19 outbreak' Cargill meat plant temporarily closing amid COVID-19 outbreak
Cargill meat plant temporarily closing amid COVID-19 outbreak – Apr 20, 2020

The organization is not only supporting this family but others who have been displaced with the temporary closure of the plant. Staff and volunteers are guiding them through employee benefits and accessing resources.

“We have a resource package in different languages and videos so they can see what is the most effective way of taking care of their health,” Antonio said.

“They are worried — worried about employment status, not sure if they’ll be re-hired now that the plant is closed and they are worried about their health — some have children already infected and showing signs of the virus.”

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READ MORE: Union says staff at 2nd Alberta meat plant scared of COVID-19, not showing up to work

Thomas Hesse, president of UFCW Local 401, said another worker is fighting for his life. The man in his 50s worked at the Cargill plant and came to Canada for a better life for himself and his family.

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“He is in a medically induced coma and is on a ventilator in a Calgary hospital,” Hesse said.

The Official Opposition is expressing concerns about how the outbreak at the plant was handled, questioning whether it came far too late. NDP leader Rachel Notley said concerns were raised days ago about close contact with coworkers and not having adequate protection.

“When we exempted Cargill, that should have been paired with very aggressive health and safety inspection and regular monitoring, and if that would have been done from the beginning, we could have avoided the shutdown,” Notley said on Tuesday.

“To run around and assure people they were safe is profoundly irresponsible. These people are human beings, they have families and it’s shocking they were allowed to put workers at risk.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Where Alberta’s COVID-19 outbreaks are

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While appearing on The Ryan Jespersen Show on 630 CHED on Wednesday morning, Notley doubled down on her comments.

“The breakdown is absolutely at Jason Kenney’s cabinet table,” she said.

“This is a government that, honestly, thinks that some people and some industries are worth more than the lives of other people.”

Notley says she told labour and health officials that inspections at the Cargill plant needed to be stepped up on March 6. She told 630 CHED that she’s horrified that the inspection that was performed was a video inspection, shot by Cargill representatives.

“A video inspection is the most negligent example of that work that I’ve ever seen in my career and I used to do this work before I go into politics.”

Cargill has not responded to questions from Global News about the video inspection.

LISTEN BELOW: Rachel Notley joins The Ryan Jespersen Show

In a statement, Adrienne South, press secretary to Alberta’s minister of labour and immigration, said the inspection was not a video delivered to Occupational Health and Safety.

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“It was a live inspection and fully interactive, with the inspector directing movement as required,” she said. “Video is also recorded so that the OHS official can go back and review and follow up if required.”

Video conferencing was also used during the inspection, she added, to “mitigate the risk of exposure of all parties.”

Alberta Health said Tuesday there are 401 COVID-19 cases in workers from the Cargill meat-processing plant, and 515 total cases have been linked to that outbreak.

“There is a dedicated team working on reducing spread, with particular attention to households that may not have the resources or space for self-isolation to happen,” the province said in a news release.

Government officials said a team responded as soon as they learned of the outbreak.

Spokesperson Steve Buick said Alberta Health also supported the company in its enhanced safety protocols.

“This is a complex issue,” Buick said. “Individual companies can make their own decisions regarding their operations, as they did in this case.”

Cargill did not respond to Global News’ requests for comment.

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

Speaking to Global News Morning Calgary on Wednesday , High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass said the pandemic is “not a joke.”

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“It’s not a hoax. It’s still a struggle for me to get that through to some people,” Snodgrass added. “We’re seeing now how fast this thing can spread and go haywire on you, so you have to take it seriously.

“It comes right down to the individual level, as to making sure that you’re taking the proper precautions and you’re being responsible for your own actions.”

Click to play video: 'How the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting High River' How the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting High River
How the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting High River – Apr 22, 2020

– With files from Kirby Bourne, 630 CHED

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