Rapid COVID-19 testing urged at Saskatoon chicken plant where outbreak declared

Norm Neault says rapid COVID-19 testing at Prairie Pride Natural Foods, which employees 260 people, would give staff confidence going into the workplace. Slavo Kutas / Global News

The head of the union representing workers at a Saskatoon chicken processing plant is calling on the company to implement COVID-19 rapid testing.

An outbreak was declared at Prairie Pride Natural Foods on Feb. 19.

Read more: How rapid tests are being used to test for COVID-19 across Canada

Norm Neault, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1400, said rapid testing at the plant that employees 260 people would give staff confidence going into the workplace.

“We’re just asking the employer, we’re asking (the Saskatchewan Health Authority) as well to go a little bit above and beyond and make sure that the plant is as safe as it can possibly be,” Neault told Global News.

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“My understanding is they’ve got a glut of these tests that haven’t been used. Now is a very opportune time to be using them.”

Saskatchewan’s official Opposition is also calling for the province to roll out rapid testing to the plant.

Labour critic Carla Beck said the government has received just over 422,000 kits from the federal government, but only used two per cent of that allotment to date.

“You can’t call it rapid testing if the kits have been sitting on shelves for months,” Beck said in a statement.

“We’ve seen outbreaks at food processing plants before. These rapid tests should be deployed at the first sign of COVID-19. Slow government responses to workplace outbreaks put workers at risk and only helps the virus spread.”

Read more: Saskatchewan expanding COVID-19 rapid testing

The Saskatchewan government announced at the end of February that it was expanding testing for asymptomatic individuals.

During the Feb. 25 announcement, officials with the Ministry of Health said a tender was being developed for third parties to deliver the testing.

Neault said the union and workers have been left in the dark about the situation at the plant.

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“We know of nine confirmed cases, with an additional 50 other individuals connected to those nine cases, that have been told by the SHA to self-isolate,” Neault said.

“That’s a quarter of the plant.”

The company had not responded to Global News’ request for comment at the time of publication.

Neault would also like the company to bring in more measures to ensure the safety of his members, including deep-cleaning and adjusting the line speed to ensure proper social distancing is maintained.

“A lot of our workers, they’ve got young families, they go to school, some of them carpool as their only means of transportation to get to work.

“They’re nervous, they’re scared.”

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan to increase availability of COVID-19 rapid testing kits in clinics across province'
Saskatchewan to increase availability of COVID-19 rapid testing kits in clinics across province

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