There is now an outbreak of COVID-19 linked to Canada Post’s main plant in Calgary, Alberta Health Services officials said Friday.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said six cases have now been linked to the facility. The main sorting facility for Canada Post in Calgary is located near the airport, at 1100 49th Ave. N.E.
“What happens in any outbreak … the cases are identified and asked questions when they start to have symptoms,” Hinshaw said during a press conference. “Anyone who is a close contact would be required to be home in self-isolation for 14 days.”
A spokesperson with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) said the announcement would make this the first outbreak at a Canada Post facility.
“There have been confirmed cases of COVID-19 amongst postal workers in other areas of the country, some at the same Canada Post facilities,” said Btihal Yaaqoubi with CUPW in an email to CBC News.
“However, this is the first instance where public health authorities have described the situation as a ‘confirmed outbreak.’
“We are investigating this claim by public health as we have not received any evidence that there is a spread within the Canada Post facility.”
Canada Post said the cases occurred at separate times over a three-week period dating back to April 20, adding that some employees have not been in the building since early April.
“In working with Alberta [health officials], they’ve informed us they do not believe these cases occurred in the workplace but rather that exposure occurred externally and all cases were unrelated,” spokesperson Jon Hamilton said in an email to CBC News. “The employees were also showing no symptoms when last in the workplace.”
Hamilton said those who health officials identify at risk through contact tracing are currently being tested.
Craig Jenne, who studies infectious diseases at the University of Calgary, said although there’s always a theoretical risk of catching COVID-19 if you interact with someone who is infected, the risk of catching the virus through mail is “very, very low.”
“We haven’t seen, to my knowledge, any viral transmission through the post, for example,” he said. “On paper, on cardboard, it will only survive for up to a maximum of 24 hours.”
Jenne said Canada Post has taken “very proactive decisions” during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as sanitizing its facility and instructing letter carriers to wear gloves.
“You can still maintain a physical distance to the letter carrier … if it can [stay in the mailbox] for a day, the [virus will die] on paper and cardboard,” he said.
“There’s no need to panic or worry about this as a method of viral transmission to the public.”
Pam Earl, a letter carrier with Canada Post, said the company has held safety meetings whenever new cases were confirmed.
“They’ve been fantastic. We have deep cleans anytime there’s someone who has been tested positive,” she said. “We send home people all the time for 14 days with symptoms.”
Hinshaw said work site outbreaks are handled by local Alberta Health Services officials, who work to determine timelines, trace contacts and determine if specific work needs to be done.
Testing for all staff — even those without symptoms — can be ordered at work sites with outbreaks, Hinshaw said, but added it’s up to local health officials to make those decisions.
In a statement, a spokesperson with AHS said an investigation was underway.
“AHS has completed an inspection of the facility and has made recommendations on social distancing, enhanced cleaning, infection prevention and control measures as well as staff wellness screenings,” the statement reads.
The facility remains open at this time.