Kitchener-Waterloo

Conestoga Meats plans week-long closure after 7 cases of COVID-19

Conestoga Meats is shutting down production for a week at its Breslau pork processing plant after seven workers tested positive for COVID-19, a change in direction from earlier in the week when the company said it would stay open.

Region of Waterloo Public Health investigating outbreak, according to acting medical officer of health

There are seven cases of COVID-19 among workers at Conestoga Meats, according to the company. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

Conestoga Meats is shutting down production for a week at its Breslau pork processing plant after seven workers tested positive for COVID-19, a change in direction from earlier in the week when the company said it would stay open.

The plant, one of Ontario's largest pork producers, will start the week-long shutdown on Monday, according to the company.

"Employees have expressed concerns regarding COVID-19 positive cases at the plant," president Arnold Drung said in a statement. "The health, safety and wellbeing of Conestoga Meats employees is our priority."

In the statement, Drung says limited staffing and operations will be maintained. He adds that employees who won't be working will be compensated for their time off.

'Sigh of relief'

Gordon Hanna, who works at the plant as a meat cutter, says he senses relief among his co-workers now that the plant is closing.

"There's this collective sigh of relief, now we can breathe and hopefully have some relief from the stress and the fear," said Hanna. "There was a lot of worry about contact and how fast it could spread, especially...with what's happening in Alberta at Cargill."

One worker has died at the the High River, Alta. meat processing plant and more than 500 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to Cargill's facility.

There could be more cases at Conestoga Meats. That's what Drung has said Waterloo Region Public Health told the company because of the size of its workforce and the increase in regional testing.  Conestoga Meats employs more than 800 people and processes between 35,000 and 40,000 hogs a week, according to the company.

Public health officials told the company about the seven positive cases on Monday, according to Drung.

Public health investigates

The region's acting medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang says public health is in the process of investigating the situation at Conestoga Meats.

"We have received concerns and calls — anonymous ones mostly," Wang said. "So we are following up, working with the Ministry of Labour in addition to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which oversees the plant."

The CFIA website says it doesn't anticipate any COVID-19 related food recalls. "There have been no reported cases of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19," the CFIA's website adds.

Wang says even though the company has been following recommended measures from public health and the CFIA, the outbreak among workers at the plant is important to examine.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development has already launched an investigation into the company after receiving two complaints related to COVID-19 on Wednesday, including concerns about physical distancing procedures. 

Conestoga Meats was also investigated by the labour ministry for another complaint on March 24 regarding a lack of personal protective equipment. But the ministry says that investigation is complete and no orders were issued.

About the Author

Julianne Hazlewood is a multimedia journalist who's worked at CBC newsrooms across the country as a host, video journalist, reporter and producer. Have a story idea? julianne.hazlewood@cbc.ca