21 workers at Cargill meat plant in Guelph, Ont. test positive for COVID-19, union says

There are 21 employees at a Cargill meat processing plant in Guelph that have tested positive for COVID-19, the union that represents workers says. As well, approximately 80 employees have been identified as close contacts and have been sent home.

Approximately 80 workers sent home to isolate after being identified

A Cargill meat processing plant in Guelph has 21 workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 and 80 others who have been sent home, says a union representing workers. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

There are 21 workers at a Cargill beef processing plant in Guelph, Ont. who have tested positive for COVID-19, the union that represents the workers says.

As well, approximately 80 other workers have been identified as close contacts of the 21 cases and have been sent home to isolate and await test results, says Tim Deelstra, the spokesperson for United Food and Commercial Workers Locals 175 and 633.

"This facility is part of the food supply chain in this country and that is an important thing. We all want to eat," he said.

"But ... people want to go to work and feel safe and secure when we do that. So as a union, that's our concern on behalf of our members, that they be able to go to work and be healthy and safe when they leave the facility and when they go home to their families."

Deelstra says work at the facility has been "slowed down" while enhanced cleaning takes place.

When asked if there could be a potential shutdown at the plant, Deelstra said the union would "take any action that we think is reasonable and advocate for any action that we think is reasonable with the employer."

Efforts made to curb spread

He said the union, company and public health are in constant communication about the outbreak. Earlier in the pandemic, after an outbreak at a Cargill facility in Guelph in May, the union and company worked on various measures, including increasing the physical distance between employees, enhanced cleaning and making personal protective equipment such as masks accessible, Deelstra said.

Daniel Sullivan, a media relations director for Cargill, said there has been an increasing number of cases in Guelph as a community.

"The employees were not working at the time and are self-quarantined following our detailed screening process. They are receiving appropriate medical care and support," he said in an email. "We have conducted contact tracing and are working with local health officials to monitor the situation."

He added the company has mitigation plans in place to limit the spread of the virus. That has included the measures mentioned by Deelstra, as well as not allowing visitors into the plant, taking people's temperatures and travel restrictions.

He noted while the facility is running at reduced capacity currently, "we expect several teammates back this week and can recover that capacity. Overall, our production facilities, and supply chains have been running with limited disruptions, and we continue to deliver on customer needs with innovative and agile solutions."

Cargill following public health measures

Rita Isley, the director of community health and chief nursing officer for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health said the company and union are working with public health to reduce the spread of the virus.

"Unfortunately, the COVID virus is in the community and people are bringing it to workplaces," she said in an emailed statement. "Cargill is employing all public health measures and working with our staff to assist in contact tracing. Some of the measures implemented includes erecting barriers, staggering shifts and a modified lunch room."

The medical officer of health Dr. Nicola Mercer says she has advocated for the region to be moved into the "red zone" of the province's COVID-19 framework because of increasing cases, specifically in Guelph. It's important to note, not all Cargill employees live in Guelph.