May 22, 2020


Maple Leaf Foods reports 1 COVID-19 death, 59 infections



An outbreak at a Maple Leaf Foods plant in a Montreal neighbourhood has left one employee dead and multiple employees infected with COVID-19, Global News reported.


The worker died on April 19 and is among at least 59 Maple Leaf employees working in seven different plants across its North American network who have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, said the Mississauga, Ontario-based company.


The deceased employee was working at the company's Viau plant in the Montreal North neighbourhood. As of May 13, this neighbourhood had the highest number of cases and the highest rate of infection on the Island of Montreal, according to the latest statistics released by local health officials.


"He began working at the plant in July of 2017 and was known for his hard work, his loyalty and dedication," stated Maple Leaf Foods spokeswoman Janet Riley on Friday. "Everyone at Viau and throughout Maple Leaf was deeply saddened by the news."


Riley described the plant as a "close-knit community" that now has 24 positive cases, including one employee who remains hospitalised.


She said that all of the others had recovered or were on the road to recovery.


"Unfortunately, the districts in which our Montreal North team members tend to live are communities that have been among the hardest hit by COVID in all of Quebec and even in Canada, and this has likely contributed to the cases we've had our plant," Riley said.


Riley said Maple Leaf Foods has also had two confirmed cases of COVID-19 at a Viau plant in Laval, just north of Montreal. The company says it temporarily suspended operations at the Montreal North plant for three days from April 13 to April 16 after learning employees were infected, but it didn't suspend operations at the Laval plant. Neither of the two Quebec plants have unions.


Maple Leaf Foods also temporarily suspended operations for two weeks at a unionised poultry plant in Brampton, Ontario, in early April after some workers tested positive for the novel coronavirus. In total, 24 workers tested positive for the virus at this Brampton plant, according to a union spokesman.


The employee from the Montreal North plant who died was not the first one with a confirmed case of COVID-19 at that facility, Riley said. But it wasn't immediately clear where he contracted the disease.


"It's impossible to determine precisely the source of transmission of COVID, especially when the virus is widespread in certain communities, as it is in Montreal-North and Brampton," she said.


Riley added that the company has had no new cases reported anywhere in its network for eight days, but was remaining vigilant in its battle against the virus.


"We are thankful that most are recovering well or have recovered," the company wrote in its COVID-19 message, last updated on May 8. "However, we (are) deeply saddened by the passing of a valued team member at our Viau North Montreal (plant on) Sunday, April 19. As we support our affected team members, we will also continue to be vigilant with our protective measures."


The company said in its statement that it responded to confirmed cases of COVID-19 by following best practices recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control. It said it also collaborates with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and public health authorities to make the best decisions possible in each situation.


"At each of the affected plants, we immediately implemented our COVID-19 response plans, making sure that all health, safety and sanitation measures were implemented, including deep cleaning procedures and notification of any co-workers who had close contact with these individuals," the company's statement read.