Nova Scotia poultry plant reopens early after COVID-19 outbreak
Eden Valley Poultry resumed operations Monday at reduced capacity after 10-day closure
The poultry plant in Berwick, N.S., that closed earlier this month because of a COVID-19 outbreak has restarted operations ahead of schedule.
Just over 100 staff members — about a quarter of the usual complement at Eden Valley Poultry — returned to work Monday after Public Health mandated a closure on Dec. 11.
Public Health originally called for a two-week closure, but plant operators and the chicken farmers who rely on Eden Valley to process their birds advocated for an earlier reopening, citing concerns for animal welfare and food supply.
Eden Valley president Werner Barnard told CBC News last week that he was submitting a reopening plan to the province.
"We were fortunate that they approved us to reopen the business," Barnard said in an interview Monday.
The staff who are back at the plant were given special permission to travel between home and work without making any stops, but they're expected to continue self-isolating until the full 14 days have elapsed.
More stringent safety protocols
Prior to the outbreak, the plant had mandated mask-wearing and was doing temperature checks on staff before they entered the building each shift.
The reopening plan includes increased COVID-19 screening questions for staff as they enter the building, additional hand-washing stations, unidirectional travel around the facility and three-walled cubicles to surround staff while they take breaks in the lunchroom.
The plan also includes isolating different departments from each other by staggering shifts, and assigning some staff to work as compliance officers to enforce all the COVID-19 protocols.
Barnard said most of the new measures will stay in place for the duration of the pandemic, except the reduced staffing levels. He said all remaining staff will return to work on Dec. 28 when their isolation period is over.
The first round of testing at the plant found six cases of COVID-19 among the approximately 450 staff, and all staff were tested a second time last week. Barnard said no new cases were discovered.
No known spread to surrounding community
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said there's no evidence of the virus spreading into the community around the plant.
Strang said he and other Public Health officials worked with the plant on its reopening plan and he feels "very comfortable" that the risk of further spread among staff is low.
"The reason we've done this is because of some significant animal welfare issues dealing with the poultry that needed to be processed, as well as there were certainly evolving supply issues of chickens and turkeys that needed to be dealt with as well," he said at Monday's COVID-19 briefing.
Staff deemed by Public Health as the least likely to have been exposed to the virus when it first entered the plant are the first to return to work.
Birds still can't be fully processed
Barnard said the reduced capacity at the plant means birds can be slaughtered but not processed to the same extent as usual. Instead of being sold to retailers like grocery stores, they'll go to wholesalers at a reduced rate.
"We will take a few weeks to try and catch up to normal processing," he said.
The plant had been working on a contingency plan to send birds to processing plants in New Brunswick, but Barnard said that's no longer necessary.