27 COVID-19 cases at Manitoba's largest poultry plant apparently linked to community spread, province says

The first case of the illness at the Exceldor Cooperative plant in Blumenort — formerly known as Granny's Poultry — was detected on Oct. 8, a spokesperson says.

89 people at plant in Blumenort are self-isolating, says Exceldor Cooperative spokesperson

Twenty-seven employees at the Blumenort, Man., poultry plant have tested positive for COVID-19, Exceldor says. (Patrick Foucault/CBC)

Twenty-seven workers at a southeastern Manitoba poultry plant have tested positive for COVID-19, while another 62 people linked to the plant are self-isolating.

The first case of the illness at the Exceldor Cooperative plant in Blumenort, Man. — formerly a Granny's Poultry plant — was detected nearly two weeks ago on Oct. 8, said Gabrielle Fallu, a spokesperson for the Quebec-based company, in a statement on Wednesday. Exceldor merged with Granny's earlier this year, the Manitoba-based company's website says.

There is still no indication that COVID-19 is spreading within the workplace, Fallu said.

"Exceldor investigated every single one of the cases, and results show that all the measures in place are effective in avoiding contamination among employees in the workplace," said Fallu.

"Our role is to ensure a safe working environment for our employees and to raise as much awareness as possible on the precautions to take outside the workplace."

A spokesperson for the province confirmed that there have been no signs of spread within the workplace and that the cases at the plant appear to be the result of community transmission.

"A thorough inspection will be conducted, though our initial review has shown that measures have been taken in the workplace to protect employees," the spokesperson said.

Scientists from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have confirmed that chickens and turkeys do not spread the illness that causes COVID-19, the provincial spokesperson said.

The site is the largest poultry plant in Manitoba, said a spokesperson for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, which represents more than 500 workers at the Blumenort plant.

Fallu said the Blumenort plant employs around 650 people.

Workers who test positive for COVID-19 at the plant can cover their lost wages by applying for short-term disability through their benefits plan. But those who are only identified as close contacts and sent home need to apply for employment insurance benefits to cover lost wages, UFCW 832 secretary-treasurer Bea Bruske said in a statement on Wednesday.

Bruske said that difference highlights a need for paid sick days for workers at the plant.

"People do have to make the choice as to whether or not they go to work, and sometimes if they may have some symptoms, they may think, 'It's just a flu, I'm going to go in,' or 'I just have a bit of a tickle in my throat, I can't afford not to have my full paycheque.'"

That topic will be on the table when the union's collective agreement with the employer expires next spring, Bruske said.

Staff from the province's workplace safety and health department have already been to the plant, Bruske said, and will be joining staff from public health and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Friday for another walk through the site.

The plant has already introduced measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, including giving face masks and sanitizing kits to employees who carpool to work, Fallu said.

Other measures in place at the site include mandatory face masks for employees, additional cleaning and hand sanitizer at the site, staggered shifts and an additional lunchroom to give workers more space and plexiglass partitions between employees where distancing is not possible, Fallu said.

A small number of employees at the company's Quebec plants have also tested positive for COVID-19, Fallu said.

With files from Patrick Foucault, Rachel Bergen, Caitlyn Gowriluk and Amelie David