Alberta plans to open vaccination clinics at Cargill meat plant near High River

Alberta plans to open vaccination clinics at Cargill meat plant near High River

Alberta plans to open vaccination clinics at a southern Alberta meat-packing plant that once had North America’s largest COVID-19 outbreak linked to a single site.

The Cargill operation near High River has about 2,000 employees and processes around 4,500 head of cattle per day — around one-third of Canada’s processed beef supply.

Clinics at the plant will open in conjunction with Phase 2C of the province’s vaccination plan, Alberta Health Services (AHS) said in a press release on Thursday. Clinic operation is dependent on the availability of vaccines.

Phase 2C is projected to launch in April and May provincewide, and widens up vaccinations to several new groups, including residents and staff working in settings at risk for large outbreaks such as meat-packing plants.

While a specific date was not provided by AHS for the opening of the immunization clinics, the Globe and Mail reported on Thursday that operations are scheduled to start around April 20.

Vaccinations at the plant’s clinics will be provided by occupational health nurses who will be employed by Cargill, and public health nursing staff will help assist and train them, AHS said.

‘They’re at higher risk’

AHS said it hopes to expand the pilot to other meat-processing plants, which have proved dangerous for workers in Alberta during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An outbreak last spring saw at least 950 employees at the Cargill facility — nearly half its workforce — test positive, and was linked to three deaths.

From left: Benito Quesada, 51; Hiep Bui, 67; and Armando Sallegue, 71, have died of COVID-19, with their deaths linked to an outbreak at the Cargill slaughterhouse near High River, Alta. Quesada and Bui were workers at the plant, and Sallegue was the father of a worker. (UFCW 401, Action Dignity, Arwyn Sallegue)

The plant was hit with a second outbreak in December, with 12 active cases linked as of Monday.

Thomas Hesse, the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 — the union that represents the employees at Cargill — told CBC News in January that vaccines needed to be made readily available for meat plant workers.

“In a Cargill or a JBS or other manufacturing facility in Alberta, there’ll be a couple of thousand workers in a big box still working in relatively proximity,” said Hesse told CBC News in January.

“These are essential workers. They’re at higher risk. This is clearly an occupational disease. Many of them want to have access to a safe vaccine.”

Cargill faces proposed class-action, RCMP investigation

Cargill is facing a proposed class-action lawsuit on behalf of individuals who had close contact with Cargill employees. They allege the company operated without adequate safeguards despite public health warnings.

The RCMP also confirmed in January that it had opened an investigation into the death of Cargill worker Benito Quesada after his daughter, Ariana Quesada, filed a formal complaint asking police to investigate potential criminal negligence. It is believed to be the first police investigation into a workplace COVID-19 fatality in Canada.

The allegations have yet to be tested in court. 

In addition to the Cargill plant north of High River, current outbreaks at meat-packing plants in Alberta include Cargill Case Ready in Calgary, Olymel in Red Deer, Lilydale Sofina Foods in Edmonton, and Sunrise Poultry Processors in Lethbridge.

  • Take a look at a timeline of the 2020 Cargill outbreak:

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