Employee tests positive for COVID-19 at Calgary chicken plant

Cargill Protein is an international poultry processing company.
Cargill Protein is an international poultry processing company. Global News

Sofina Foods Inc., confirmed on Thursday that one employee tested positive for COVID-19 at the company’s Calgary plant.

The plant, located in southeast Calgary — which manufactures fresh chicken products — said the worker who tested positive is “self-isolating and doing well.”

READ MORE: New measures added at High River, Alta., Cargill plant after workers raise coronavirus concerns

“We had anticipated this possibility as part of our COVID-19 business continuity planning and had identified proactive measures to mitigate the risks to our employees,” operations director at the Calgary-based plant Gerry Beadle said in a news release on Thursday.

Beadle also noted that the company has been working with Alberta Health Services to ensure the plant can continue to function while ensuring the safety of its 450 employees.

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Multiple Canadian meat processing facilities report COVID-19 outbreaks – Apr 22, 2020

He said several initiatives have been implemented at the plant that follow the best practices guidelines laid out from the Public Health Agency of Canada and industry professionals.

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Those measures include the installation of plexiglass separators between working stations, increasing sanitization of offices and working areas and staggering breaks between employees to help ensure physical distancing.

“This gave us a significant head start to promptly and effectively address this type of incident,” Beadle said.

Sofina Foods said the plant is still fully operational after Alberta Health Services confirmed all necessary measures to protect the health of their employees and prevent any further spread of the virus had been taken.

READ MORE: 3 employees test positive for COVID-19: Calgary Midtown Co-op

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However, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers of Canada Union (UFCW) 401 Thomas Hesse is calling for more action. He said the plant should be shut down to prevent another outbreak like the one that recently occurred at the Cargill meat plant in High River, Alta.
Hesse said the plant processes more than 130,000 chickens per day and with more than 400 employees working in close quarters, he’s asking for a temporary closure to prevent further spread.
“The Sofina plant in Calgary is an old plant, and it’s crowded. Our first concern is, they’re operating at full production,” Hesse said.
“You simply cannot ensure social distancing, people will bump into each other. When you’re talking about that large a number of workers and that size of a processing operation, it is inherently unsafe and inherently concerning.
“You have to check a lot of boxes to make it safe and one of the boxes they haven’t checked is to slow production and now we have a COVID diagnosis there.”

READ MORE: Why is the Calgary zone such a hot spot for COVID-19?

Hesse said the union has had, for the most part, positive interactions with the Sofina Foods plant in Calgary, however, he noted that the operation is so large more steps must be taken to protect workers.
In response to the union’s request, the plant noted that all employees who might have been in close contact with the diagnosed individual are self-isolating at home. The plant also said it has confirmed with AHS that the positive COVID-19 case is an isolated incident.
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On Thursday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw confirmed the positive case at the Sofina Food plant in Calgary and added the case is not classified as an outbreak.

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