April 23, 2020

Varcoe: With major workplace outbreaks, it’s too soon for business as usual

Many people want to reignite our stalled economy by easing the coronavirus lockdown measures, but outbreaks at three major Alberta work sites should deliver a sobering message.

It’s too soon to abandon steps designed to slow the spread of the virus and, ultimately, protect the public, experts say.

The cases of workers testing positive for COVID-19 at meat-processing plants in High River and Brooks, and the Kearl oilsands project north of Fort McMurray, demonstrate how difficult it is to keep the virus in check, says Dr. Craig Jenne, an infectious disease expert and an associate professor at the University of Calgary.

“If anything, these horrific circumstances we are seeing, for example at Cargill (a beef-processing plant in High River), have reinforced it,” he said in an interview this week.

“We are going to continue to see hot spots, clusters and outbreaks for the foreseeable future until we have a tool that can protect people from the virus.”


In Canada, discussions about how to reboot parts of the economy have begun in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where Premier Scott Moe said Wednesday he has a phased plan, with the first steps beginning in May.

Premier Jason Kenney told reporters Wednesday he will have more details on Alberta’s relaunch strategy next week. The province will consider a phased approach based on the advice of health officials.

However, the number of cases in Alberta continues to rise, up 70 per cent in the past week. On Wednesday, the number jumped by 306 from the previous day and now totals 3,401.

“We have seen a growth in confirmed infections in the past week because of those three sites, in particular,” Kenney said.

“To folks who want us just to reopen right now, my response to them would be these localized outbreaks are cause for us to be cautious.”


According to the Business Council of Alberta, the next move will not be a return to normal, but likely something between normal and where we find ourselves today.

“Nothing can happen until people feel safe,” said council president Adam Legge.

“We could open every restaurant and store in Alberta tomorrow, but unless people feel safe, through some enhanced means, no one will go anywhere.”

There will be pressure in the weeks ahead for Alberta to ease restrictions as other provinces get people back to work. But science and public safety considerations must drive the next steps here.

Image: Edmonton Journal


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In the spirit of truth, reconciliation, and respect, we honour and acknowledge the lands upon which we live and work as guests, including the traditional territories of the First Nations in Treaties 6, 7, and 8 and the citizens of the Metis Nation of Alberta. We thank the First Peoples of this land, which we now call Alberta, for their generations of stewardship of the land, and we seek to walk together in the spirit of truth and reconciliation to build a shared future for all in Alberta.

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