PEI

Island beef company screening employees for fevers because of COVID-19

Atlantic Beef Products in Albany, P.E.I., is taking the temperatures of more than 150 employees twice per day.

'Education is a big part of what we're doing'

In March, a beef plant in Calgary had to close when one of its employees was confirmed to have COVID-19. (Canadian Press)

A beef processing plant in Albany, P.E.I., is putting extra precautions in place to ensure its employees are healthy during COVID-19.

Atlantic Beef Products is taking the temperatures of about 155 employees twice per day.

Russ Mallard, the company's president, said staff are screened before entering the plant and if they're exhibiting any symptoms of the virus, they are asked to go home and call 811 — the province's non-emergency line for COVID-19.

Temperatures are checked for a second time in the early afternoon, he said.

"Education is a big part of what we're doing," he said.

"It doesn't necessarily mean that they have COVID-19, but they have one of the symptoms … we'll re-evaluate them the next day depending on how they're feeling."

Restricting access

Health Canada has identified having a fever, as well as a dry cough, tiredness and difficulty breathing, as some of the most common signs of the virus.

Mallard said the plant has also implemented physical distancing measures and has restricted access to staff only.

Russ Mallard, president of Atlantic Beef Products, says staff are screened before entering the plant and if they're exhibiting any symptoms of the virus, they are asked to go home and call 811. (Karen Mair/CBC)

"If you're a truck driver coming in from someplace else, you don't come into the building," he said.

"We've locked down the building and we've controlled the access of our facility very, very tightly."

He said Atlantic Beef Products has been working with other meat processors across the country and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to develop a protocol that protects essential workers.

"You know, we're asking a lot of people to keep on going to work when all the news out there is for everybody to stay home," he said.

"I feel very good about the fact that our team is coming to work — we're getting the job done. We're doing it as safely as we can."

Pork producers 'anxious'

In March, a beef plant in Calgary had to close when one of its employees was identified as having COVID-19.

Mallard said Atlantic Beef Products processes around 700 cattle each week from P.E.I., Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

He said local beef is a priority and plans to continue processing it as long as everyone in his plant remains healthy.

Mallard said right now he doesn't have the same concerns when it comes to processing as those in the Island's pork industry do, because beef can be processed locally.

"I do know that they're going through some challenges right now, as plants in other parts of the country, perhaps even in the U.S,. have been closing … because of COVID-19," he said.

"So the timing of a hog shipment is perhaps a little more critical than it is for a shipment of beef."

P.E.I. pork producers ship their product to Quebec for processing. (Submitted by Winny Edgcomb)

P.E.I. pork producers ship their product to Quebec.

Paul Larsen, chair of the P.E.I. Hog Commodity Marketing Board, said while production at these Quebec plants has not yet been impacted, there is the possibility that it could be halted due to the virus.

"I would say for most of us, we're pretty anxious. It's a bit of a stressful situation to be in," he said.

Larsen said most hog production operations are "farrow to finish" so moving the animals quickly is important. 

"You can probably hold that production back, but if you were looking at a number of weeks that you weren't able to move your animals, that could present quite a challenging situation."

Larsen said the situation is changing daily and he's been in touch with the province to see what options are available if the two plants in Quebec are unable to take pigs from P.E.I. 

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.
  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Isabella Zavarise is a video journalist with CBC in P.E.I. You can contact her at isabella.zavarise@cbc.ca

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