May 18th, 2024

Safety at local food facilities a concern to City officials

By Jensen, Randy on April 23, 2020.

Alberta Health Services continues to work with local food production facilities in an effort to mitigate any risk of potential outbreaks, such as those seen in Brooks and High River. Herald photo by Ian Martens

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald

There are heightened concerns about local food plant safety after outbreaks of COVID-19 at the Cargill High River meat packing plant and JBS Lakeside plant in Brooks have hit employees hard and begun to spread in both communities.

City of Lethbridge Director of Emergency Management Marc Rathwell admitted there was very little local authorities could do about the situation, and they had to trust Alberta Health Services and the province to address any potential risks.

“Any of our large production facilities, whether it be food or any other industry, we want to make sure they are complying with the AHS guidelines,” he said. “The AHS inspectors we know are going out to these sites, and they have a higher level of concern now we have identified a couple instances happening in High River and also in Brooks.

“AHS has gone to our facilities here, and they are working with them ensuring they are applying the guidelines they should be to mitigate (the risks).”

It’s one more concern to add to the mass of issues facing the City since the coronavirus began to spread throughout the province and a Local State of Emergency was declared a few weeks back, said Rathwell.

“There’s a lot of things keeping me up at night right now,” he admitted, “but, yes, those are types of concerns we have in our community because those are essential pieces for us. We want to make sure our food production facilities are still up and running because that is an essential (economic) piece for our community. If we don’t have that, we’re going to have other problems. So (the concern) gets elevated to a much higher level in terms of our priority when we start looking at those pieces.”

Other things keeping Rathwell up at night? A general shortage of personal protective equipment for the City’s frontline workers, and people in the community who do not seem to understand what being in quarantine or self-isolation means.

The PPE shortage is really out of the City’s hands, explained Rathwell, because the shortage exists all across the province and the country. And in firefighters parlance, there are so many hotspots the provincial and federal governments are dealing with right now in terms of COVID-19, it’s just one more vital thing to add to an ever-growing list.

“In this case we are dealing with a worldwide pandemic, and our direction is coming from the provincial and federal governments,” stated Rathwell. “There is sort of this time lag at times between decisions being made at the provincial level until it gets to the municipality, and then we can implement those pieces. When they come out with a policy procedure guideline, as soon as we get it, we have to digest it and figure out how it fits into the rest of our community and all of our community programming, and all our (City) business units, and trying to implement that to make sure all our staff are safe. Because once we know our staff are safe, we can start protecting our community.”

In terms of those who have been ordered into self-isolation due to their potential exposure to the virus and who may be still ignoring or circumventing those orders, that does frustrate him, Rathwell admitted.

“Self-isolation when you are at home is not going to the grocery store to get groceries,” he stated. “It’s not going to the yard waste sites. It’s not going to visit people. It’s not any type of social gathering. It is self-isolation at home. You need to stay at home for those two weeks until those symptoms abate, or you are OK’d to return.”

Rathwell also emphasized the need for local residents who are not in quarantine to continue to practise proper social and physical distancing during this pandemic because, as large outbreaks in Brooks and High River the past week have shown, it can all change in a heartbeat.

“It affects every aspect of our business and our personal lives on how we manage COVID,” he stated. “It affects everything and people have to realize that, and we have to make adjustments in our lives.”

Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter

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