No truckers among cluster of COVID-19 cases tied to Brandon business, association says

By | May 7, 2020

A cluster of COVID-19 cases identified earlier this week is linked to the Brandon office of a trucking company, Manitoba’s premier says.

Seven positive cases of the illness have now been connected with the Paul’s Hauling office on Richmond Avenue E. in Brandon.

For the third day in a row, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin would not share the name of the business on Thursday, though he indicated that five of the cases are employees and two are their close contacts.

It’s believed none of those employees are truckers who are currently driving for the company.

Premier Brian Pallister did, however, confirm earlier in the day that Paul’s Hauling Brandon offices were the site of the cluster.

“The point I would hope to emphasize through this is the need for all of us to continue to be vigilant,” he said, stressing the importance of physical distancing and other health measures right now as Manitoba reopens parts of its economy. 

“And of course, this is important not just in the trucking industry but throughout our economy.”

WATCH | Premier on COVID-19 cluster at trucking company:

Seven positive cases have now been identified in connection with Paul’s Hauling office on Richmond Avenue East in Brandon. On Thursday, Premier Brian Pallister confirmed the company offices as the site of the cluster. 1:14

Paul’s Hauling representatives refused CBC News requests on Monday and Tuesday for details confirming its office as the site of the cluster.

The premier didn’t say whether those infected include office staff or truckers, the latter among a group of essential workers still permitted to cross the Canada-U.S. border for work.

But the executive director of the Manitoba Trucking Association said the positive cases involved office staff, not drivers with the company.

Manitoba Trucking Association executive director Terry Shaw suggested Paul’s Hauling had implemented safety protocols for staff working in its office before the positive cases emerged, and that helped stem the spread. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

“They had protocols in place, and when their staff self-assessed they enacted that plan accordingly, therefore significantly minimizing the spread,” said Shaw. 

“Their system worked.”

‘It’s a balance’

The first five positives were announced Tuesday and the following two on Wednesday, with Roussin saying during daily COVID-19 briefings they were connected to a workplace in the Prairie Mountain Health Region in southwestern Manitoba. Citing privacy concerns, he refused to identify the company.

In addition to the positive cases, health officials tested 14 asymptomatic people in connection with the cluster. All of those tests came back negative, Roussin said.

Pallister and Roussin were asked whether they anticipate any new safety measures will be implemented for truckers, given that the Brandon cluster happened at a trucking company office.

“We’re aware of issues, but this particular cluster doesn’t change our thoughts on that,” said Roussin on Thursday.

Manitoba is reliant on truckers’ work transporting vitally needed personal protective equipment from the U.S., he said.

“It’s a balance. We have to maintain our supply chains.”

The premier suggested the cluster is significant, but confined to one workplace.

“This should serve as a reminder of how sneaky this virus is, how dangerous it is, and how critically important it is to follow our practices on social distancing,” said Pallister.

“Stay home when you’re sick.”

Outbreak could have been worse

The outbreak could have been worse were it not for precautions the business took in advance of the spread based on advice from health officials, Roussin said.

“This business took it upon themselves to cohort their employees, to group employees in smaller groups while they worked,” he said.

“It’s really a note to the actions taken by this business, the action that can be taken by any business to reduce the impacts of this virus.”

All of the connected cases stem from one of those smaller groups, he said.

Roussin previously said he is unsure how the person with the first case at the trucking company contracted the virus, but the others all stem from the initial case. The affected staff and their close contacts are self-isolating and public health officials are working with those patients on contact tracing.

Most of the contact-tracing investigation into the cases is already complete, he said on Wednesday. However, he did not rule out the chance there could be more linked cases identified, as contact tracing for the two new patients continues.

“It’s certainly possible,” he said earlier in the week. “We’re still in the incubation period for many of the contacts.”

Paul’s Hauling is headquartered in Winnipeg, on Oak Point Highway, and started in Virden more than 60 years ago. It has branches in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and terminals in a number of locations in Canada.

The company says on its website that it is one of the leading providers of bulk transport service in Western Canada.

The company was established in Winnipeg in 1957 by the late Paul Albrechtsen, who became a philanthropist known for donating millions of dollars to health-care research and facilities.

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