Alberta's biggest COVID-19 outbreak is hitting us right where it hurts: the beef industry. A meat plant south of Calgary has quickly become the province's largest outbreak. On Friday, April 17, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health, confirmed that the Cargill Meat Plant in High River, Alberta has been linked to 358 COVID-19 cases so far. Cargill also happens to be one of two major beef suppliers for McDonald's Canada.
BEFORE: According to CBC News, the previous number of COVID-19 cases at this meat plant was known to be 38, as confirmed on April 13.
Since then, the plant has experienced an explosion of new cases, leading it to become the biggest outbreak in Alberta, representing 15% of the province's total number of cases. In less than a week, they recorded an 842% increase in new cases.
Of the 358 infected people, 200 are workers from the facility and the remaining 158 include close contacts and family members of the workers.
The Cargill meat plant is one of two major beef supplier for McDonald's Canada.
As of Monday, April 20, the plant is still open. As of now, some workers are urging that they need personal protective equipment (PPE), stronger safety standards, and a more cohesive response from the province.
The Calgary Herald reported that employees of this facility called in to a telephone town hall meeting on Saturday, April 18 to express their concerns.
Some employees were worried that the province hasn't been doing enough to find close contacts of the infected workers.
Reportedly, a lot of employees at the plant are anxious about going to work. Some have even shared that employees are still working "elbow to elbow."
Multiple groups and unions representing the employees have urged Cargill to offer better protective gear, enforce physical distancing, and even shut down the plant for at least two weeks.
CBC also interviewed a number of employees from the facility.
These sources stated that the employees were not following physical distancing measures set up by the plant, including staggered break times and installing dividers in the cafeteria.
One source even said that they were allegedly asked to come back into work just three days after testing positive for the disease. They claim that the company directed them to break self-isolation and return to work if they showed no symptoms of the disease.
Narcity has reached out to McDonald's Canada and Cargill for comment and we will update this story when we receive a response.
660 CityNews interviewed another employee from the plant, who said that workers haven't been given PPE, even though the management team has been provided with face shields for themselves.
A Cargill spokesperson told CBC that people shouldn't worry about the beef patties at McDonald's because COVID-19 is not a foodborne illness.
Cargill has also said that they've taken a number of measures to make the workplace as safe as possible, including temperature screening, installing dividers, and disallowing visitation.
In response, Dr. Deena Hinshaw has put together a special team to monitor and investigate the outbreak at this facility.