A third death has been linked to the COVID-19 outbreak at a Cargill meat-processing plant near High River in southern Alberta, which is the largest tied to a single location in Canada.
On Monday, Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said a man who died over the weekend was an employee at the plant.
He was hospitalized with COVID-19 one month ago, she said.
The first two deaths linked to the outbreak were Hiep Bui, a 67-year-old woman who worked at the plant, and Armando Sallegue, the 71-year-old father of a worker at the plant, who was visiting from the Philippines. Sallegue’s funeral was held Sunday evening.
Hinshaw said Alberta Health is focusing on adverse outcomes of workers at the plant, as it can be difficult to confirm where people outside of the workplace contracted the illness. Sallegue’s son was confirmed to have COVID-19 the same day his father was hospitalized with the disease.
CBC News has reached out to Cargill for comment on this latest worker death.
There are currently 36 active cases of COVID-19 among Cargill employees, and 911 employees have recovered. More than 1,500 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to the plant, which at one point had the largest outbreak in North America.
A spokesperson for UFCW 401, the union representing workers at the plant, said they were unable to confirm the identity of the worker who died over the weekend, but said they were devastated to learn of another death related to the outbreak.
Employees at the plant have accused the company of ignoring physical distancing protocols and trying to lure them back to work from self-isolation, even after they have tested positive of COVID-19.
A live video inspection by Alberta Occupational Health and Safety, conducted after dozens at the plant were already sick, concluded the work site was safe to remain open. Days after that inspection, the province’s labour minister assured workers the plant was safe. The next day, the first employee death was recorded.
The plant was closed for two weeks following that death but reopened last week with increased safety protocols, the company said.
Earlier on Monday, NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray renewed the Opposition’s call for Cargill to close and for an external investigation into the outbreak, citing a recent CBC News report that the company did not engage worker representation in the internal investigation of its outbreak.
“These workers had just watched hundreds of their colleagues contract a deadly virus. They lost a colleague, they are worried about themselves, they’re worried about what they may bring home to their families and they don’t trust that their employer is remotely interested in keeping them safe,” she said.
“This is in contravention to the OHS Act and an abdication of their responsibility to their employees. How on earth do you investigate worker safety and not include workers? You can’t. How can anyone have confidence that this workplace is safe? How is this workplace allowed to stay open?”
There are currently two other outbreaks at meat-processing facilities in Alberta.
At JBS in Brooks, there are 58 active cases of COVID-19 and 548 employees have recovered. And at Harmony in Balzac, there are 16 active cases of COVID-19 and 22 have recovered. Both plants remain open.