COVID-19 infections force shutdown of Charlotte County food distribution plant
2 of 80 Kloosterboer Bayside employees test positive, 42 contractors, vendors and visitors now being tested
A cold-storage plant in Charlotte County that helps distribute food across North America is confirming that it shut down Friday after being hit by two cases of COVID-19.
Kloosterboer Bayside's general manager Manuel Estrada says tests for all other employees have come back negative and the plant will gradually resume operations in the coming days.
He agreed to speak to CBC News to counter what he said is a lot of concern in the surrounding area near Saint Andrews.
"The community is freaking out because it's close to home now," he said. "Ignorant people are making it sound like it's the worst place to be, and to never come back to work."
The plant, owned by Rotterdam-based Kloosterboer Inc., receives frozen food by ship at the Port of Bayside and then distributes it by truck to the North American market.
It describes itself as "a front-runner in logistics services ... for temperature controlled food products."
The Bayside plant employs 80 people. Estrada said all employees other than the initial two cases have now tested negative for COVID-19. Forty-two contractors, vendors and visitors to the plant are also being tested and so far no one has had a positive result.
Estrada said Public Health had described the virus that infected the two employees as "a variant that is not contagious" but he was not able to elaborate on what that meant, or on how they caught it.
In a Facebook post Monday morning the company described it as "less contagious." Public Health was not able to immediately clarify.
Health Department spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said in an email that the variant "is not one of the variants of concern or interest."
He said after testing on the weekend, "Public Health is reviewing the results to help chart next course of action which will include increasing testing capacity at the assessment centre in St. Stephen and next steps for return to work at the facility."
Runny nose was only symptom
Estrada said the first of the two employees had a cold about four weeks ago but was cleared to work because the only symptom was a runny nose and that's common for people working in cold storage. "We don't report every sniffle to Public Health," he said.
The Kloosterboer plant closed Friday when that employee received a positive test. The employee's daughter had tested positive earlier in the week, Estrada said.
The second employee's positive test came back Saturday.
All family members and contacts of employees were instructed to call Tele-Care 811.
The company's website says it "implements measures, both at group level and at site level, to protect the health of our employees and of parties we do business with.
"At the same time, we do our utmost to ensure the continuation of our business processes and to safeguard the interests of our customers."
Estrada said he has been the only employee at the plant since Friday. Twenty-two employees are cleared to return to work Tuesday and he expects the plant will be back to full operations in a week.
Public Health has issued four public exposure notifications for Charlotte County in recent days for grocery stores in Saint Andrews and St. Stephen, a restaurant in St. George and a doctor's office in St. Stephen.
The province reported three new COVID-19 case in Zone 2 on Monday, one on Sunday, three on Saturday, two on Friday and two on Thursday.