EDITOR’S NOTE: On Wednesday, Alberta Health confirmed that the father of a worker at the Cargill meat plant died of COVID-19. Later on Wednesday, Alberta Health said it had prematurely confirmed the death. Global News is continuing to report the death based on the son telling Global News that health officials told him his father died of COVID-19.
The novel coronavirus is being blamed for six more deaths in Alberta as COVID-19 case numbers, including at meat plants in the province, continue to rise.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health spoke about the outbreaks at the Cargill, JBS and Harmony meat plants again on Wednesday, the same day a worker at the Cargill meat plant in High River said his father died of COVID-19. It is not yet clear how he contracted COVID-19.
Arwyn Sallegue told Global News his father, 71-year-old Armando Sallegue, was taken to hospital on April 22 and tested positive for COVID-19 a day later. At the hospital, Arwyn said he too tested positive for COVID-19. Arwyn said Armando died at Rockyview General Hospital in Calgary this week.
“I don’t blame anyone,” Arwyn said. “You cannot blame someone else. It’s a virus, it’s unseen.
“All of us will miss our dad. My kids are still hoping they’ll see their grandpa — they are close to him. They made paintings of ‘get well soon’ and expected to have him home.”
Arwyn said Armando’s wife died in 2017 and that he is happy his mother and father are now reunited.
“He was a man — a father — you dream of,” he said. “He’s a good man… A father full of wisdom guiding us and a man with respect and full of dignity. That’s the values he passed onto us.”
Alberta Health originally confirmed the death and then later said it was not sure it was linked to COVID-19, however, the man’s son said the death was being blamed on the disease.
“I know there are many questions,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said while talking about the serious outbreaks at meat plants in Alberta.
“We have implemented lessons learned at Cargill.”
As of Wednesday, 946 workers at the Cargill plant in High River had tested positive for COVID-19, 798 have since recovered. At JBS Foods in Brooks, there are now 566 confirmed cases among workers and 434 have recovered. At the Harmony plant near Calgary, 38 workers have now tested positive for COVID-19 and 12 have recovered.
Hinshaw told reporters she knows there are ongoing concerns from some about Cargill’s decision to reopen its High River plant on earlier this month. She said all meat facilities in Alberta have implemented safety controls after consulting with her, Occupational Health and Safety, Alberta Health Services and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
“I want to be clear that we are monitoring each of these outbreaks very closely, working with operators to contain the spread and making sure that all public health measures are being enforced and taken seriously,” she said.
“We are also making sure to support workers to contain the spread in all settings, as a focus on just a single work site will not stop an outbreak.”
At the Cargill plant specifically, Hinshaw said the company is requiring face masks be worn, enhancing cleaning and hygiene protocols, conducting temperature checks on workers and enhancing the ability to practise social distancing through staggering breaks and other measures.
“A dedicated Alberta Health Services task force is working around the clock to respond to each COVID-19 outbreak,” the Alberta government said in a news release on Wednesday. “Alberta Health Services and Occupational Health and Safety are visiting facilities regularly to ensure control measures are implemented and provide ongoing advice and support to the workers and employers.”
The government added that other measures being taken at meat plants are limiting the number of passengers to two in each vehicle entering the plant, installing additional sinks and sanitizing stations, reconfiguring parts of plants to make it easier for social distancing and updating training and safety procedures.
“Alberta Health Services has conducted three inspections at Cargill, four at JBS, and two at Harmony Beef,” the government said. “AHS has also hosted virtual town halls with employees at several facilities, and has provided information to employees in English and translated into multiple languages.”
For workers at the Cargill plant in High River and the JBS plant in Brooks, testing is being offered to all workers, including those without symptoms, to limit the spread.
On Wednesday, a Cargill employee told Global News that his father, who was visiting from the Philippines, died after contracting the novel coronavirus and being admitted to hospital.said the union that represents workers at the slaughterhouse near High River.
“We join with the community that is supporting the worker right now in expressing our condolences, but we also wish to respect his space as he grieves this terrible loss,” said Michael Hughes, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401.
Cargill issued a statement.
“We know COVID-19 has deeply impacted our community and our plant. Our deepest condolences go out to the family,” it said.
While it is not clear where the man contracted COVID-19, Alberta Health also said it is unable to confirm this is a COVID-19-related death.
The outbreak at the Cargill plant has already claimed the life of Hiep Bui, 67, who had worked at the plant for 23 years.
The plant was shut down April 20 as the contagion spread, but reopened Monday.
The union representing plant workers said that while most employees seem to be going back to work, it believes it’s only because they need the money.
“People are under pressure,” said Hughes. “We think it’s driving a lot of people’s decision that they need to get paid.”
Hughes said the union was receiving messages from some workers unwilling to go back.
Hughes said that at JBS, absenteeism continues to rise.
“We have… proactively identified and adopted more than 100 preventive measures at our Brooks facility to ensure a safe working environment for our team members,” said JBS Canada spokesman Rob Meijer.
“We continue to carefully monitor COVID-19 testing and our risk mitigation on a daily basis, and we will make any future decisions based on the best available data and advice from both our team members and public health officials.”
Overall COVID-19 cases in Alberta
As of Wednesday afternoon, Alberta’s total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases stood at 5,963. Of those, 3,552 have seen people recover. A total of 730 cases are suspected of being community-acquired.
There have been 4,003 cases in the Calgary zone, 1,111 cases in the South zone, 503 cases in the Edmonton zone, 229 cases in the North zone, 91 cases in the Central zone and 26 cases where the zone has yet to be confirmed.
Of the 112 COVID-19 related deaths in Alberta, 79 have been in the Calgary zone, 15 in the North zone, 12 in the Edmonton zone, five in the South zone and one in the Central zone.
There have been 632 cases and 82 deaths confirmed at continuing care facilities.
“I want to express my heartfelt condolences to these families,” Hinshaw said while speaking about the six latest fatalities on Wednesday.
“Our thoughts go out to everyone who loved these individuals and all those grieving their loss today.
“Unfortunately, this virus is like a forest fire. Once it has started to spread, there are no simple or immediate ways to put it out. It takes time and hard work and proven practices that slow the spread. We are making progress. We will win this fight.”.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Alberta Health said there have been 170,509 COVID-19 tests conducted in the province. In the last 24 hours, 3,494 tests have been completed.
The ABTraceTogether app, a voluntary app meant to imrpove contact tracing in Alberta as the province gradually reopens its economy, had 135,462 registered users as of Wednesday afternoon.
–With files from The Canadian Press’ Bill Graveland and Dean Bennett
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