British Columbia

Workers at 2 more B.C. poultry-processing plants test positive for COVID-19

Positive cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in workers at two more B.C. poultry plants — Sofina Foods in Port Coquitlam and Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry in Yarrow, near Chilliwack.

Positive tests at Sofina Foods in Port Coquitlam and Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry near Chilliwack

A worker has tested positive for COVID-19 at the Lilydale poultry plant in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia owned by Sofina Foods. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Positive cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at two more poultry-processing plants in British Columbia. One of the new cases has a connection to a previous outbreak.

Sofina Foods Lilydale plant in Port Coquitlam and Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry in Yarrow, near Chilliwack, each reported that a worker at their facilities had tested positive for the illness.

This brings the total number of cases of COVID-19 connected to four poultry plants to 48.

Fraser Health is investigating both cases and has ordered all staff at the two new poultry processing plants tested for COVID-19.  Neither plant has been ordered closed. Officials said a single case is not considered an outbreak.

Fraser Health's chief medical health officer, Dr. Martin Lavoie, confirmed that the employee who tested positive at the Lilydale processing plant in Port Coquitlam lives in close proximity to a relative who works at the Coquitlam poultry processing plant, where there's an active COVID-19 outbreak.

Crowded housing of workers

Under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, agricultural workers brought into the country live in approved housing. That means groups can live in the same house and work at the same processing plant, according to Ken Falk, president of Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry.

When asked if the close-quarter living conditions of some of the staff who work in the processing plants might have contributed the spread of the virus, Lavoie said "from a communicable disease perspective" this can be "a big challenge."

Lavoie said the health authority is contacting all poultry processing plants to ensure all have safety measures, partitions and personal protective gear and employee screening in place to catch any infections fast.

"Everybody is learning that there is a risk there," said Lavoie.

"Many have already done these things already."

Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry's Falk, says an employee wasn't feeling well during a pre-screening that took place on Friday before they started working.

The employee was sent to get tested for the virus and the positive result came back Tuesday. Falk says the employee is now recovering from their symptoms at home.

"At this point, we are in a bit of a holding pattern," said Falk early Wednesday. "We're waiting to hear from Fraser Health. They're reviewing things this [Wednesday] morning."

"We will take whatever their recommendations are, of course, and follow them."

The processing plant at Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry has been shut down after a worker tested positive for COVID-19 on April 28. (Facebook/Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry)

The owners of the farm say guidelines by the Canada Food Inspection Agency indicate there is no reason to recall any of its chicken or duck products. 

The farm which produces specialty Asian chicken called Loong Kong or Taiwan chicken, remains open.

Falk said the processing plant was shut voluntarily on Wednesday, despite no order to close from Fraser Health.

"We opted to close to find out what next steps are. We wanted to be proactive in this," he said.

He says approximately 100 employees work in the processing plant.

"Over the last several weeks, we've had a number of people that we've either encouraged to go into self-isolation or they've done that on their own," Falk said.

2nd outbreak announced Wednesday

The Sofina Foods plant in Port Coquitlam is still fully operational according to a news release from the company, which says it employs 400 workers.

It says any employee who may have been in close contact with the diagnosed employee has been asked to self-isolate at home and monitor their health as a cautionary step. 

"The employee lives with relatives who work at a local plant where, recently, several employees tested positive for the virus, including one of the employee's relatives." said plant manager Kuljeet Chahal in the written statement.

Sofina Foods says the employee who tested positive for COVID-19 at their Port Coquitlam meat-processing plant wore personal protective equipment at all times. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The company says it's confident the risk of a wider outbreak has been mitigated by safety measures at the facility, including increased disinfection of areas, physical distancing, and Plexiglass partitions. It states that the employee wore personal protective equipment at all times.

Sofina Foods owns a number of meat-processing subsidiaries including Cuddy, Lilydale, Janes, Mastro, San Daniele, Fletcher's, Vienna and Zamzam. The Port Coquitlam facility operated by Lilydale was bought by Sofina in 2010.

Last week, outbreaks of COVID-19 were confirmed at two poultry plants in the Metro Vancouver region. There are 34 confirmed cases at the United Poultry plant in Vancouver and 46 at Superior Poultry Processors in Coquitlam.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

With files from Yvette Brend

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