COVID-19 outbreak forces Alta. hog plant to close

The Olymel hog processing plant in Red Deer has temporarily closed after more than 300 cases of COVID-19 have been connected with workers at the plant.

In a statement issued Feb. 15, Olymel said the surge of cases among plant employees makes normal operations impossible to conduct in a safe and efficient manner.

Management informed hog suppliers of the move and suspended all pending deliveries until further notice.

“After notifying the union, Olymel management drew up an orderly temporary closing plan for an indefinite period. Over the next few days, plant management will mobilize the staff necessary to cease operations and complete the facility closure as soon as possible,” the company said in a statement.

“The sanitary measures will continue to be in effect at the plant during the shutdown, and Olymel management will be in contact with officials at Alberta Health Services to continue working closely with this organization.”

The union, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 401, which represents most of the plant workers, called for a plant shutdown last week after the number of COVID-19 cases surged and one worker died.

“The company will follow up with all employees to ensure their quarantine period is being respected and will strongly encourage all staff to get tested before returning to work,” the company statement said.

“Olymel will also continue ongoing investigations to determine what may have caused such a large outbreak of COVID-19 cases since Jan. 20.”

The Olymel plant employs about 1,850 people when running at capacity. However, the plant has not been running at full strength for at least two weeks due to worker illness and absences caused by the need for other workers to isolate after coming in contact with infected people, said an Olymel spokesperson.

Alberta NDP opposition leader Rachel Notley said yesterday that she is glad the plant has heeded union calls for closure to more fully address the outbreak.

“We have seen a memo from Alberta Health Services indicating one in five workers at the plant may be infected with COVID-19 already, and all efforts must be made to stop further spread. I hope the Olymel plant remains closed until the safety of all workers there can be assured,” Notley said in a news release.

Contact barb.glen@producer.com

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