Manitoba health officials reported 17 new cases of novel coronavirus Friday as Maple Leaf confirmed 10 employees at their Brandon pork processing plant have tested positive for the virus.
At a 1 p.m. press conference Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer confirmed reporting from the union representing workers at the plant that said four more employees had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Friday morning.
But Maple Leaf’s president and CEO Michael McCain said another two workers had tested positive in a statement posted to the company’s website around 3 p.m., bringing the total number of workers at the plant who have tested positive since the weekend to 10.
McCain said there is no indication the illness is spreading inside the facility, echoing what Roussin had said earlier in the day.
“Not a single case acquired it there from our investigation,” Roussin said at a Friday press conference.
The cases at Maple Leaf are linked to a cluster of 34 cases in Brandon, Roussin said, and appear to be connected to a person who travelled from Eastern Canada.
Roussin added that there is indication of community spread in Brandon.
The 17 new cases reported province-wide Friday bring Manitoba’s total number of lab-confirmed and probable cases reported since March to 491 and include 10 from the Prairie Mountain Health region, five in Winnipeg, and two people in southern Manitoba.
Roussin said as of Friday nine people are in hospital with COVID-19, including three in intensive care.
He said there are currently 132 active known cases in Manitoba and 351 people have recovered from the virus.
The number of Manitobans who have died from COVID-19 since March remains at eight.
Union calls for closure of Maple Leaf plant
Jeff Traeger, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, said he expects more Maple Leaf employees will test positive.
“We are renewing our call on Maple Leaf to halt production in the Brandon plant until this situation is under control,” Traeger said in a memo Friday morning.
The union, which represents nearly 2,000 workers at the plant, said many employees have asked if they can refuse to go to work. The union said it is complicated, since the province has deemed their work essential and the facility safe.
“If you notice that protocols are not being followed properly, then you need to let your union know immediately,” the memo said.
Maple Leaf had earlier said the cases at the plant are not linked to workplace spread.
Public health and workplace safety authorities inspected the plant Thursday, and the company said the results support its decision to continue operations.
Roussin said the industry has learned from serious outbreaks at meat-processing plants in southern Alberta this spring.
Premier Brian Pallister said the province would only step in if recommended by health experts. He noted that the rise in cases shows people need to remain vigilant.
“Safety is the key to this recovery,” the premier said. “There is nothing more important than that.”
The cases at the meat plant come as the Tim Hortons restaurant at 1845 Middleton Ave. in Brandon was forced to close after the company said an employee there has also tested positive for COVID-19.
At the Friday briefing Roussin warned of a potential exposure at the Tim Hortons that may have occurred Aug. 1. He said the while the risk of transmission is low at the restaurant, located along the Trans-Canada Highway at 18th Street, customers should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days and seek testing should symptoms develop.
A spokesperson from Tim Hortons tells Global News employees who worked closely with the employee who has tested positive are self-isolating for 14 days and the restaurant will remain closed until it can be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized and a separate crew of workers can be brought in.
While Manitoba has yet to mandate mask wearing to stem the spread of COVID-19, on Friday Roussin said wearing a mask is advisable when physical distancing isn’t possible, especially in Brandon right now.
When asked about masks Friday morning, Brandon Mayor Rick Chrest said the city is following the guidance of public health officials.
Chrest while people in Brandon are concerned said he’s been impressed by the work health authorities and affected businesses have done to try and control the outbreak.
“All of the companies that have been identified are doing a superb job of following the health protocols, locking down situations.. outright closing their store in the case of Tim Hortons to make sure that there isn’t any further spread,” he told 680 CJOB Friday morning.
“We know that the virus is still in our province and still in our community and it seems that every health region has sadly taken its turn in this thing with a bit of an outbreak and right now we’re having one to deal with.”
The province says 1,452 lab tests for COVID-19 were done Thursday, bringing the total number of tests completed in Manitoba since early February to 96,999.
The new cases reported Friday bring the province’s test positivity rate to 1.10 per cent.
–With files from The Canadian Press
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.
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