Three more COVID-19 cases confirmed at Brandon pork plant

Maple Leaf Foods has confirmed that cases at the plant are up to four

There have been three more cases of COVID-19 at Brandon’s Maple Leaf Foods pork plant, according to the union representing the plant’s workers.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 832 said this morning that three more cases had been confirmed at the plant, after a single COVID-19 case was reported over the long weekend.

The union has said the three additional cases are among, “non-production unionized employees.”

A representative from Maple Leaf Foods confirmed that cases at the plant are now up to four.

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“These cases among our team members corresponded with a recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the City of Brandon that has been widely reported in the media,” they said in an emailed statement.

The company says it is “very likely,” the workers contracted COVID-19 in the community.

The province, meanwhile, has downplayed the risk of community transmission.

A total 25 of 30 new cases reported across the province Aug. 6 were linked to known cases, while the remaining five are under investigation, the province’s chief health officer, Brent Roussin, said.

Roussin says current cases have not shown any evidence of transmission within the workplace, but would not say whether cases at the Maple Leaf Foods plant are otherwise linked outside of the facility.

The province says it is tracking 18 new cases in the Prairie Mountain Health Region, all connected to a cluster in Brandon. The cluster makes up 28 cases in total.

“Those cases aren’t community-based transmission,” Roussin said. “That cluster actually started with a travel-related case from out east.”

Roussin could not say how many of the cluster are linked to cases at the Maple Leaf Foods plant.

“Certainly, the driving force behind that cluster is not a work place,” he said.

The Brandon pork plant underwent a “deep clean,” over the weekend after the company received word of the first positive test result, Maple Leaf Foods has said.

The union has asked the company for a temporary shut down of the plant until at least Aug. 10, “Until we have more results from the outstanding tests among our members at Maple Leaf,” union president Jeff Traeger said.

The company, meanwhile, says they will, “continue to operate our Brandon plant as long as we believe we can provide an environment that will protect the safety of our people while working.”

Roussin says there is, “not a specific number (of cases),” that would necessitate the province pushing a closure.

“What would be concerning is seeing transmission events occurring within a workplace,” he said, again stressing that the province has not yet seen that pattern.

Roussin added that the province will recommend a closure if it is in the interest of public health.

Maple Leaf Foods cited their regular measures against spread of the virus, including daily temperature and health checks, social distancing, plexiglass barriers on the production line, and protective equipment for staff.

The company says the first worker to test positive for the virus was last in the plant July 28, at which point they were not symptomatic and wore protective equipment, including a face covering.

The union says that those who came in contact with that worker have since been asked to self-isolate at home.

Roussin says they expect to see further cases out of the Brandon cluster.

About the author

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Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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