Brandon, Man. experiencing ‘fairly large outbreak’ of COVID-19: health officials

By | August 7, 2020

BRANDON, MAN. — The city of Brandon, Man. is dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19, according to the province’s chief public health officer.

A total of 34 cases have now been linked to a cluster in the western Manitoba city. Six others are considered community spread.

“What we see is that there’s a fairly large outbreak in that area right now, in the community,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer.

Six additional cases were confirmed Friday among workers at the Maple Leaf Foods pork processing plant but it’s not the only business in the community dealing with the virus.

A pylon perimeter surrounds the parking lot at the Tim Hortons along the Trans Canada Highway in Brandon.

The location temporarily closed after an employee who tested positive for COVID-19 worked while they were infectious but not symptomatic, according to Roussin.

While public health officials have said the risk of exposure at the coffee shop is low, it’s unsettling news for Alyssa Russell of Virden, Man, which is about a 40-minute drive west of Brandon.

“When they had to shut down Tim Hortons — where I was the day before they had to shut it down — I was there and that alarms me,” said Russell.

Russell was in Brandon getting tested for COVID-19, not from her visit to Tim’s, but because she came into close contact with someone else who had contact with a known case.

She’s worried about the growing number of positive cases in the area and so is Brandon resident Donald Blagden.

“We had flattened it for such a long period of time and now it’s kind of exploding, I guess you could say,” said Blagden.

Maple Leaf Foods said Friday afternoon a total of 10 people who work at the Brandon plant have tested positive.

Public health officials said so far it appears everyone’s contracted the virus outside the workplace.

“To be clear there is no evidence of workplace transmission at this time,” said Roussin.

In a statement posted on the company’s website, Maple Leaf said the plant continues to operate at normal capacity with strict protocols in place to protect workers and prevent the virus from spreading within the workplace.

Still, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, the union representing Maple Leaf workers, continues to push for a temporary closure to avoid a large outbreak like the ones in Alberta and the U.S.

“Our members are extremely frightened,” said UFCW local 832 president Jeff Traeger. “They don’t really want to go to work.

“Many of them are telling us in large numbers they want to see the plant shut down for a short period of time.”

UFCW said it would give employees a chance to get tested, allowing the company to get a handle on the situation and do a deep clean. UFCW also said it can be difficult to physical distance in certain areas of the plant, such as the lunchroom and change area.

But Maple Leaf said the plant was inspected by both public health officials and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Thursday and has been deemed safe.

“They said we were going above and beyond in everything we were doing to ensure safety and they support our decision to continue operating,” said Janet Riley, Maple Leaf’s vice president of communications and public affairs.

In a blog post on the company’s website Friday afternoon, Maple Leaf Foods president and CEO Michael McCain urged Brandon Mayor Rick Chrest to call on the community to strictly adhere to physical distancing and mask use in the community.

“We must work together as one to prevent the community spread of COVID-19,” McCain’s post reads.

In response, Chrest said the city has been carefully following the advice of public health officials and that people should be even more vigilant with public health measures to help contain the spread.

“We have consistently and strenuously advocated for our community to follow the practices of physical distancing, hand sanitizing, staying home if ill, get tested if you have symptoms and the advice to wear masks if physical distancing is difficult,” Chrest said in a text message do CTV News.

Meantime, a Walmart employee in Brandon who last worked Jul. 26 also recently tested positive for COVID-19. The store stayed open.

Prairie Mountain Health said the demand for testing has increased over the past week and additional screeners have been brought on to keep the city’s only testing site open over lunch. Health officials said it’s also possible the hours may be expanded, as the number of cases continues to increase. The testing site is currently open Monday to Saturday from 8:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

Public health officials said anyone who recently visited the closed Tim Hortons in Brandon should monitor for symptoms and get tested if symptoms arise. 

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