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New death connected to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak as Alberta Health removes previous fatality

Click to play video: 'Hinshaw says Olymel plant’s COVID protocols were ‘up to standards… to prevent worksite transmission’' Hinshaw says Olymel plant’s COVID protocols were ‘up to standards… to prevent worksite transmission’
WATCH ABOVE: Dr. Deena Hinshaw says the conditions in the Olymel pork plant in Red Deer were “up to standards” to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but health officials are looking at both on-site and off-site activities that may have contributed to the outbreak – Feb 17, 2021

The union that represents the workers at the Olymel facility in Red Deer, Alta., facing a COVID-19 outbreak confirmed Wednesday that another person connected to the plant has died.

The information from the union comes as Alberta Health officials said a previously announced death was found to not have been connected to the facility.

Scott Payne with UFCW 401 confirmed Wednesday that another worker has passed away from COVID-19. “Our investigation has revealed it was a worker at the plant,” he said.

The union did not have details on the age or gender of the victim or the date when their death occurred. The new death was also not reported in the COVID-19 deaths announced by the province Wednesday.

Alberta Health said Wednesday that its latest numbers show there have been 515 total cases connected to the outbreak, 78 of which are active, and 435 which are recovered.

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Read more: ‘An eternal optimist’: Friends, family mourn victim of Olymel COVID-19 outbreak

Previously, Alberta Health had confirmed three other people to have died related to the outbreak, including a woman in her 60s who died on Feb. 21, and two men: Henry De Leon, in his 50s, died on Feb. 24 and Darwin Doloque, 35, died in January.

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On Wednesday, it said that one of those deaths has now been found to not have been related to the outbreak.

“One of the initially-connected deaths was found, after the outbreak investigation, to not be connected to the Olymel plant outbreak,” read an emailed statement from Christa Jubinville with Alberta Health.

While Alberta Health did not provide information on which case had been found to not have been connected to the outbreak, both De Leon and Doloque were confirmed by the union and friends and family to have worked at the plant.

Read more: ‘Kind and positive’ grandfather, husband identified as victim of Olymel COVID-19 outbreak in Alberta

Jubinville said that Alberta Health has not yet been informed of the latest death, so its current numbers show two deaths connected to the plant.

“When a death occurs facilities are notified immediately, while the notification to Alberta Health occurs through the provincial reporting system, which can sometimes be slightly delayed,” she said.

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The plant has been closed since Feb. 17.

A representative from Olymel told Global News that while the plant has not yet reopened for production, a “limited number” of employees returned for on-site training on Wednesday.

The company said it is aware of two deaths that are connected to the Red Deer plant.

Sylvain Charlebois, director of the agri-food analytics lab at Dalhousie University, said the length of the plant’s closure is uncommon.

“What really is a bit surprising is almost two weeks into the closure we still have no opening date,” Charlebois said. “Typically after a week, after ten days, there’s an announcement saying, ‘We are open.’

“In this case, hog producers — they need to be alerted in order to actually get organized to send animals to harvest.

“If you don’t have a date right now, it seems that something went wrong, we just don’t know what it is.”

Read more: Ottawa ready to help pork producers affected by Olymel shutdown

He added that working conditions “aren’t great for people” on the processing floor at the plants but they are “great for a virus to spread.”

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Charlebois said he believes now is the time for caution, as Alberta has now confirmed 500 variant cases of COVID-19.

“In some plants, we’ve seen people lose their lives at a very young age,” he said. “A virus and variants will spread very very quickly, like wildfire essentially, when the oversight is not proper. And sometimes it’s just too late.”

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