HIGH RIVER, ALBERTA – Cargill announced its beef processing facility in High River, Alberta, temporarily reduced shifts effective April 13 to protect employees’ health and minimize risk within the community.

Alberta Health Services data shows the total number of COVID-19 cases in the province reached 1,732 as of April 13. Cargill acknowledged that the local community has been greatly impacted by the disease. Some of its workers were affected, but the company declined to confirm case counts.

“As we continue to prioritize the health and safety of Cargill employees, we have decided to temporarily idle our 2nd shift operation at our High River protein plant,” said Jon Nash, Cargill Protein – North America lead. “This will allow us to minimize the impact of COVID-19 and continue to follow health department guidelines. This was a difficult decision for our team, but our values are guiding our actions.”

During a press conference with Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health for Alberta, a reporter asked her about a spike in COVID-19 cases in High River – 26 active cases on April 11, 44 on April 12 and 54 on April 13.

“In High River, there have been several cases linked to households where there are lots of people living together, where transmission has likely happened in those households,” Henshaw said.

Henshaw noted that local medical officers with Alberta Health Services had been aware of the risks of transmission and had been working with the local municipality to ensure active follow up measures were taken.

“They are really aggressively pursuing all of the things that we typically do when we identify cases – identify close contacts make sure that people –  if they are close contacts –  that they’re staying away from others for 14 days, and that those who are cases are staying away from others for 10 days from the start of their symptoms or until symptoms end, whichever is longer.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 said there were at least 38 confirmed cases at a single food processing plant in Alberta. Thomas Hesse, president of the UFCW Local 401, called on major food processing employers in the province to close food processing plants for two weeks to conduct a comprehensive assessment of worker safety.

The union also is seeking guaranteed full compensation for every employee during any temporary shutdown. Finally, Hesse called for an immediate meeting with union officials, experts, and government officials to design clear and enforceable rules around health and safety in food processing plants.

Nash said Cargill has taken extra steps to enhance safety while remaining operational – including temporary wage increases and bonuses.

“We also implemented additional safety measures like temperature testing, enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, prohibiting visitors, adopting social distancing practices where possible and offering staggered breaks and shift flexibility,” Nash said. “Our facility will be back to operating at full capacity as soon as is it is safe to do so.

“Every person affected is a valued member of our team. Our employees are working hard to keep food on tables in local communities. While this location is working at reduced capacity and we adapt to operating during a pandemic, our work doesn’t stop. Cargill provides an essential service to the world —providing the ingredients, feed and food that nourishes people and animals. We are working with farmers and ranchers, our customers and our employees to supply food in this time of crisis and keep markets moving.”