COVID cases at Brandon packing plant on the rise

There are now 22 cases of COVID-19 at the Maple Leaf packing plant in Brandon.

On Aug. 10, Manitoba’s provincial health officer, Brent Roussin, announced an additional 16 positive cases in the province.

Eleven of the cases were in the Prairie Mountain Health Region, which includes Brandon.

Roussin didn’t mention the Maple Leaf Foods pork processing plant in his news briefing, but said there were 22 cases at a business in Brandon.

Overall, Brandon now has 64 cases of the coronavirus. The spread is connected to an individual who travelled and didn’t isolate upon return.

The rapid spread of the virus is not connected to a single event, like a wedding, Roussin said.

It has spread through a number of social connections within Brandon.

On Aug. 7, 10 Maple Leaf employees had tested positive, a number that has more than doubled since.

The United Food and Commercial Workers 832, which represents most of the 2,000 employees at the plant, have called on Maple Leaf and the province to temporarily close the facility.

“We are expecting that this number will continue to increase, and we are renewing our call on Maple Leaf to halt production in the Brandon plant until this situation is under control,” Jeff Traeger, UFCW 832 president said Aug. 7.

Manitoba’s NDP party has also asked the province to shut down the plant.

So far, Maple Leaf Foods and the province plan to keep it open.

The Brandon business is co-operating with health authorities to minimize spread of the virus, Roussin said.

“As of right now, we’re not seeing evidence of transmission within the facility… but we’re watching that very closely,” he said. “The company is going beyond public health recommendations and is having a larger number of workers self-isolating than was recommended by public health.”

Workers are also being kept in cohorts, to reduce the potential spread.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and provincial representatives are monitoring the situation at the plant, Roussin added.

The Brandon facility is the largest pork packing plant in Canada. The 700,000 sq. foot plant can process 90,000 hogs per week.

If it were to close, even temporarily, it would have an immediate impact on hog producers.

Pigs typically go to market at six months of age and producers have minimal space to house additional pigs.

Producers could probably find additional room in their barns, for a week or two, said George Matheson, Manitoba Pork chair.

After two weeks, producers might be forced to euthanize pigs.

“It (the shutdown) sure couldn’t last for very long,” said Matheson, who raises pigs near Stonewall, Man.

“It hasn’t happened yet… we’re still crossing our fingers. But it (would) push its way back to the farm — in short order.”

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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