Cargill will temporarily close meat-processing plant at centre of Alberta's largest COVID-19 outbreak

A meat-processing plant near High River at the centre of the largest outbreak of COVID-19 in Alberta will temporarily shut down. 

There are now 358 confirmed cases linked to the Cargill plant south of Calgary. Employees at the facility have accused the company of ignoring physical distancing protocols and trying to lure them back to work from self-isolation.  

In a statement on Monday afternoon, the company said it was a difficult decision to close the facility. 

“We care deeply about our employees,” spokesperson Daniel Sullivan said in an email.

“They are everyday heroes of the food system and each person continues to be a valued member of our team. To prevent food waste, we will process approximately three million meals currently in our facility as quickly as possible. We greatly appreciate our employees who are working to complete this effort.”

Employee complaints

Sullivan said Alberta Health Services has approved all the protocols Cargill put in place, beginning in the first week of March. 

“We have taken proactive steps to focus on safety. We have encouraged employees not to come to work if they are sick, offering up to 80 hours of paid leave for COVID-related circumstances,” he said.

“We also implemented additional safety measures like temperature testing, enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, face coverings, screening between employee stations, prohibiting visitors, adopting social distancing practices where possible and offering staggered breaks and shift flexibility.”

That runs counter to what several employees told CBC News about cramped conditions and working elbow to elbow. Some even said managers tried to encourage them to return to work even though they were isolating with symptoms.

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