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Southern Alberta Filipino community ‘worried for our lives’ as members test positive for COVID-19

Click to play video: 'Alberta Filipino community ‘worried for our lives’ as members test positive for COVID-19' Alberta Filipino community ‘worried for our lives’ as members test positive for COVID-19
WATCH: The workers at a Cargill meat plant in Alberta -- and their families -- are no doubt on edge, and have been for weeks. The novel coronavirus has significantly impacted the Filipino community in the area because many are employed at the plant and have tested positive. Jill Croteau reports – Apr 22, 2020

Jocelyn Ruiz and her family came to Canada from the Philippines for a better life, one with more opportunity and hope. But she said her future has felt a little more uncertain with the spread of COVID-19. Both she and her husband and two other adults living in her High River home tested positive for the virus.

“I was so scared, I was so very fearful, that anxiety and depression came in and I have to fight it with positive thoughts. There are a lot of people who survive it and I want to be one of those.”

READ MORE: Alberta sees 5 more COVID-19 deaths, 1st case on First Nation

They have all been isolating for over 2 weeks in their High River home and are in recovery. Ruiz is relieved the Cargill processing plant shut down. Her husband’s cousin who rents a room downstairs works at Cargill, and he and his wife got infected by the virus. He was the first to show symptoms. 

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

“The guy living with us works with Cargill and it was from his job. There is no social distancing at all, so what happened is, it came from his work and it was brought to the household. That’s based on my experience. It’s not from the household going to the company. No,” Ruiz said.

She said multiple people living in one household is common within the Filipino community because they are supporting each other as they get settled in a new country.

“We are helping them, some of them are renting a house say seven of them will rent together, not everyone can afford a house,” Ruiz said.

READ MORE: Albertans struggling to return home from the Philippines amid COVID-19

The coronavirus has hit the Filipino community particularly hard. Elma Ton also lives with someone who tested positive, another employee at Cargill.

“I have a renter. He received his swab test results and it came back positive so it’s been stressful. We are all emotional with what is happening right now,” Ton said. “We feel we are helpless.”

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“Every household that I know with a Filipino, there is somebody tested positive in every household that I know.”

Ton’s husband works at the meat processing plant too, and is concerned about him returning to work.

I’m worried for my children, especially my eldest one, because she has high blood pressure,” Ton said. “We are all worried for our lives.”

The union supporting the 2000 workers at the Cargill plant said more needs to be done to reassure families when they return to work. Thomas Hesse, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) President, is advocating for them to be heard. 

“These plants are petri dishes of infection; where hundreds if not thousands are working in close proximity. It has its origin, we believe, in these crowded plants.

Global News reached out to Cargill officials and did not receive a response in time for publication.

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