BRANDON, Man. — Manitoba’s largest increase in positive COVID-19 cases in months has prompted a union representing employees at Maple Leaf Food Inc.’s pork processing plant in Brandon to call for it to cease production.
Thirty new cases were announced Thursday in the province, 18 of which are connected to a cluster in Brandon.
The cluster includes four workers who tested positive at the pork plant.
There are 34 active cases in the Prairie Mountain Health Region, which includes the city about 200 kilometres west of Winnipeg.
“Today’s case number is a reminder that COVID-19 is not done with us, that we still need to take those fundamental precautions,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer.
Roussin said there was no indication of workplace spread at Maple Leaf.
He said the Brandon cluster is linked to a person who travelled from Eastern Canada and didn’t self isolate “perfectly” upon arrival in Manitoba.
While Roussin would not confirm where the traveller came from the province cautioned about possible exposure on a Montreal to Winnipeg flight on July 29.
Until Thursday, there had not been a major single-day increase in the province since 40 cases were announced on April 2.
Jeff Traeger, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, said in a memo Thursday that the union wants the company to stop work at the Brandon plant until Aug. 10 at the earliest.
“Until we have more results from the outstanding tests among our members at Maple Leaf,” Traeger said.
One worker at the plant tested positive over the weekend and the union said three new cases Wednesday are non-production staff.
The union represents nearly 2,000 people at the pork plant.
Meat-processing plants were the epicentre of some of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada outside of care homes. Hundreds of people tested positive during outbreaks at two southern Alberta beef-processing plants this spring.
There were three deaths linked to the Cargill plant in High River, Alta. It shut down for two weeks before reopening at reduced capacity. The JBS Canada plant in Brooks, Alta., operated with just a single shift each day for a full month.
Maple Leaf said in an email that a response plan was immediately implemented following the positive tests at the Brandon facility. The company said it appears likely the employees contracted COVID-19 in the community.
However, several employees were asked to self-quarantine.
All employees are given a daily health screening and have their temperatures monitored, the company said. Employees are also supplied personal protective equipment and are required to social distance.
“We 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,” the email from Maple Leaf said.
COVID-19 cases in Manitoba had remained relatively low, with a current total of 474, but there has recently been an increase in infections.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the union had sent him a letter requesting the government conduct a full health inspection of the Brandon plant. He said it will be left to public health experts to make determinations about safety.
“We are not there in this case yet.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2020
— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg
News Releases | COVID-19 Bulletin #198 – news.gov.mb.ca
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Parents, epidemiologists unsurprised by COVID cases in Sask. schools – CBC.ca
Eight cases of COVID-19 have now been identified in Saskatchewan schools — the latest was found earlier this week at Valley Manor Elementary School in Martensville, Sask.
However, a professor in the department of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, says this was to be expected as children returned to their classrooms this fall.
“I’m certainly not surprised,” said Dr. Cory Neudorf. “We’ve known right from the start that this pandemic tends to affect adults and older people more in terms of symptoms. And since a lot of the testing has been focused on people with symptoms and those wanting to go back to work, we haven’t had as much uptake in testing from children.
“Now that we’re doing a little more testing in that age group, we expect to be finding a certain number of positives, both in terms of those who may have had mild symptoms and those with no symptoms at all.”
Janine Muyres’ three children attend City Park School in Saskatoon. For her, the transition to distance learning last winter was “kind of like having labour — when you’re in it, it’s hell, and when you’re out, you think ,’Well, that wasn’t so bad.'”
When Muyres found out her children could go back to their classrooms this fall, she was relieved to know that distance learning was off the table, at least for now.
“I remember telling my coworkers, ‘I don’t care if the kids have to wear a HAZMAT suit, they’re going back to school,’ she said.
“I’d been hanging on all summer with my fingers crossed, thinking ‘It’s got to go back, because I can’t do that to my kids again. I can’t put them through that.’
“I was just so busy with work. I couldn’t watch over them and make sure their assignments were getting done.”
With cold and flu season on the horizon, as well as fall allergies to contend with, Neudorf urged parents to take their children for flu shots as soon as possible and exercise caution when sending them to school with any health symptoms in the months ahead.
“I can imagine it’s going to get very frustrating to have mild symptoms leading to multiple tests being done and disruptions to work and family life,” he said. “This is the short-term reality we’re in this year.
“In the meantime, we do what we can with physical distancing, mask wearing, washing hands, using sanitizer and limiting your close circle of who you’re interacting with.”
For Neudorf, a case of COVID-19 in a school community can be a sign for administrators and public health officials to review their existing policies and question what could be done differently going forward.
“Whenever we see cases in a school, that’s a chance to re-look and ask if there is anything we could have done differently in terms of screening, keeping kids home when they’re sick … and contact tracing,” he said.
“Every time there’s a case or a cluster, it’s time to look at that in the context of that school and say, is there anything we could be doing differently here? We’re essentially learning as we go.”
Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation, is concerned about how quickly teachers are being asked to change on a dime as the school year progresses.
“From what I’m hearing, lots of teachers are kind of hanging by a thread and hoping that they can get through day to day at this point,” he said. “It is an unprecedentedly stressful time.
“I have lots of members who have been told — this late into the month already — that they’re changing their positions, switching subjects or going to online learning. And we’re asking that teachers be patient and roll with the punches, but at some point, we get to the fact that it’s very difficult to change what you teach this late into September.”
Maze has commended school faculty and staff for their thorough implementation of COVID safety protocols, but believes large class sizes and after-school activities may still fuel in-school transmission.
“Whether it’s practices or different events in the community, it’s a bit frustrating, because I know that schools have put in a tremendous amount of work to cohort students … and do block scheduling,” he said. “And that will all come undone if we continue to try to run things as normal in the evenings, as far as clubs and activities and events. So we’re hoping that the community can also do its part in order to help us keep the measures that have been put in place in schools to keep everyone safe.”
As for Muyres, she is working on sending her children out the door in the morning with a realistic perspective on this unique school year.
“I tell my kids, we’re not going to live in fear,” she said.
“We’re not going to let this consume our life, and nobody’s going to develop anxiety over this. This is here, it’s happening right now, here’s what you can do to prevent it. And we’re just going to go ahead until otherwise directed by health officials.”
COVID-19 in Sask: Here's what we know ahead of the next update – CTV News
Here’s what we know ahead of Saskatchewan’s next update on COVID-19 cases in the province.
Saskatchewan reported 10 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of active cases to 146.
In a release, the province said six new cases are in Saskatoon, two are in Regina, one is in the far north east zone and one is in the central west zone.
Two of the new cases in Saskatoon are linked to a previously reported outbreak identified at Brandt Industries. To date, 19 cases have been connected to this cluster, the province said.
MOE REMINDS RESIDENTS TO KEEP GATHERINGS LOW
Premier Scott Moe says people should keep gathering sizes low to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, stressing they could face penalties if they don’t comply.
He said on Monday the vast majority of people are obeying the rules, but there have been some instances of individuals going out of bounds.
“We need to be careful,” Moe said during a press conference. “One infected person at the wrong place at the wrong time can turn into dozens of additional cases.”
The warnings come after a house gathering in Saskatoon caused cases to increase in that city.
SASK. RAMPING UP TESTING
The province announced on Tuesday it will be increasing testing in Saskatchewan, hoping to meet a goal of 4,000 tests per day.
Starting this week, Saskatchewan Health Authority labs will implement pooled testing of asymptomatic swabs.
This will allow labs to test more specimens with fewer testing materials and increase testing output, the SHA said in a news release.
News Releases | COVID-19 Bulletin #198 – news.gov.mb.ca
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