A contract security guard who worked at Maple Leaf Food’s plant in Brandon tested positive for COVID-19, but the company says there are currently no workers at the plant with the illness.
The contractor last worked at the plant on April 28 and tested positive on May 6, said a statement from Maple Leaf vice-president of communications and public affairs Janet Riley.
"We understand from the security company that the worker believes that he was exposed to a COVID-positive acquaintance on April 30, immediately self-quarantined, and received confirmation that he tested positive on May 6," Riley said.
Everyone is talking about Manitoba’s low numbers and talking about how we’re on the other side of the curve and the weather is beautiful this weekend … but I think this shows us how close this could have been to a similar situation to what we’ve seen in Cargill plants
The company the guard worked for learned about it on May 14, Riley said, and informed Maple Leaf.
"Given the length of time since the person has been at the plant and the security role the person fills with so little contact with our team members, our physician medical adviser has indicated that is an extremely low-risk situation," the statement reads.
Employees on the day shift had been informed by Friday afternoon and afternoon employees were also expected to be informed when they arrived.
Reached Friday, Riley said the company has lots of health and safety measures already in place to counter COVID-19.
"We clean every day, and then we do deep cleanings. We clean the operating areas where we’re actually handling animals and producing food … but then we also do deep cleanings where we’re going through all the welfare areas where the employees might interact, like a locker room or a lunchroom," she said.
So much cleaning had been done that there wasn’t anything more the company could do after it learned someone who worked at the plant had tested positive.
The plants work differently than before the pandemic, she said. There are markers for social distancing on the floor and some plants have plastic shields between work stations. Workers also have their temperatures checked before starting work and complete a verbal health screening.
They also wear face coverings while on the job.
The case at the Brandon plant was a "close call," said UFCW local 832 president Jeff Traeger, who represents workers there.
"It speaks to us how important it is to be diligent," he said.
There have been large COVID-19 outbreaks in food-processing plants in Alberta, Quebec and the United States. At a Cargill plant in High River, Alta., more than 940 workers were infected, which led to 1,500 cases in the community.
"Everyone is talking about Manitoba’s low numbers and talking about how we’re on the other side of the curve and the weather is beautiful this weekend … but I think this shows us how close this could have been to a similar situation to what we’ve seen in Cargill plants," Traeger said.
The only outstanding health and safety issue the union has at the Brandon plant is the lack of plexiglass shields between workers, he said. Maple Leaf is working on a solution, but the fact that animals are also slaughtered at the plant complicates the issue.
"It’s a close call, and we need to learn from it; we need to make sure that we’re absolutely diligent, and when there is a case people need to know a lot quicker than the two weeks it took this time."
» Twitter: @DrewMay_
Manitoba cases remain at 289
Public health officials advised there are no new cases of COVID-19 reported in Manitoba as of Sunday morning, but they urged caution as people enjoy the May long weekend.
The number of cases remained at 289, a statement by Manitoba Health said. As of Saturday, an extra 762 lab tests had been conducted, raising the number of tests done in Manitoba since early February to 34,715.
As of Sunday, two people were in hospital, including one in intensive care.
There were 25 active cases and 257 people had been listed as recovered. Since the outbreak hit Manitoba, seven people have died.
Manitoba Health said: "It is important to note that while some gradual lifting of restrictions has begun, significant work to limit the spread of COVID-19 must continue. If you travel for camping or to the cottage, you are reminded to take steps to maintain social distancing."
People in southern Manitoba are not allowed to travel to areas north of the 53rd parallel in order to protect northern communities from getting the virus.