Quebec meatpacking worker tested positive for COVID-19 one day before he died

A worker at a meatpacking plant about an hour southeast of Quebec City has died, just a day after testing positive for COVID-19.

The Olymel pork processing plant is in the middle of a major outbreak. According to the company, 40 workers have tested positive so far—which adds up to a positivity rate of 25 per cent, since only 159 workers have been tested so far.

However, the union representing workers at the plant has told various media outlets that the number of positive cases is double that. 

The plant has more than 1,200 employees currently working, so only a small minority have been tested.

It hasn’t been confirmed yet that the deceased man died of the virus, said Olymel spokesperson Richard Vigneault, but the man did have it.

“An investigation is underway to determine the exact circumstances of this death and whether they are related to COVID-19,” the company said in a news release Wednesday.

“The deceased employee had tested positive for coronavirus, and received this result yesterday.”

The company is providing support to the man’s family, it said, though it didn’t provide any more information about him or where he was from.

Workers began showing symptoms last week and testing began on Monday, said Vigneault.

The plant is still operating, but the company is meeting to discuss what steps to take and how to follow public health directives, he said.

Neither the union nor the local health authority could be reached for comment on Wednesday evening. 

In the spring, the president of the union told other local labour organizers that the company had put strict measures in place at the plant, including so much Plexiglass it was like working in "an aquarium."

Workers were screened for fever and other symptoms at the entrance to the building, and distancing was enforced on the factory line. 

However, he said the company's head office had dragged its heels at first on putting those protections in place, and that the union had sent two formal notices before it got done. He said the delay was partly to blame for the 17 cases of COVID-19 the same plant had in the spring.

The plant is located in Vallée-Jonction, which is in the Chaudiere-Appalaches region. Though relatively rural, it’s been as hard-hit by COVID-19 as Quebec’s major cities in the past month, entering the red zone at the same time as Montreal and Quebec City, on Sept. 28.

Meat-processing plants have been the sites of some of Canada's worst COVID-19 outbreaks, including a giant beef processing factory in High River, Alberta, that had nearly 1,000 positive cases and two deaths in the spring.

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