Calgary, Alberta

Worker is also positive for the virus

Teodoro ‘Ted’ Alcuitas

The father of a Cargill worker has died of coronavirus on May 6, Alberta Health confirmed. 

Arwyn Sallegue told Global News his father, 71-year-old Armando Sallegue, was taken to hospital on April 22 and tested positive for COVID-19 a day later. At the hospital, Arwyn said he too tested positive for COVID-19.  Arwyn said Armando died at Rockyview General Hospital in Calgary.

The novel coronavirus is being blamed for six more deaths in Alberta as COVID-19 case numbers, including at meat plants in the province, continue to rise.

“I don’t blame anyone,” Arwyn said. “You cannot blame someone else. It’s a virus, it’s unseen.

“All of us will miss our dad. My kids are still hoping they’ll see their grandpa — they are close to him. They made paintings of ‘get well soon’ and expected to have him home.”

Arwyn said Armando’s wife died in 2017 and that he is happy his mother and father are now reunited.

“He was a man — a father — you dream of,” he said. “He’s a good man… A father full of wisdom guiding us and a man with respect and full of dignity. That’s the values he passed onto us.”

“I want to be clear that we are monitoring each of these outbreaks very closely, working with operators to contain the spread and making sure that all public health measures are being enforced and taken seriously,” says Dr. Deena Hinshaw Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer.

“We are also making sure to support workers to contain the spread in all settings, as a focus on just a single work site will not stop an outbreak.”

The family started a GoFundMe page last month to help cover the cost of his medical care, as he was in High River, Alta., visiting family from the Philippines when he contracted the virus. The Fund which raised more than $11,000 is now deactivated.

Cases connected to the Cargill meat plant outbreak have increased dramatically over the past two weeks. As of Friday, (May 1) there were 558 cases in workers from the plant, with 798 total cases linked to the coronavirus outbreak. It’s the largest outbreak linked to a single site in Canada.

Cesar Cala with the Philippines Emergency Response Taskforce — a network of volunteers that seeks to support crises in the Filipino community — said many in the community are afraid to speak out about their experiences, especially TFWs whose stay in Canada is linked to their employment at these facilities.

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Cesar Cala, a volunteer with the Philippines Emergency Response Taskforce, said many Filipinos feel like they’re being singled out and blamed for the crisis at Cargill. (Cesar Cala)

But this has posed a challenge, as Cala said many in the community feel as though their concerns were not taken seriously.

“Many Filipino workers and residents sent a letter to the company asking that the plant be closed so that safety measures could be put in place, but no actions were taken,” Cala said.

Two days later, Cargill announced it would shut down the facility temporarily after it was announced that a worker had died.

“The situation got worse, and what [the Filipino community is] hearing from officials is that they are the ones spreading the virus,” Cala said.

Challenges and frustrations

Cala said the realities of transportation and housing are out of the control of many employees at these facilities. Having sent a letter voicing their concerns before numbers of confirmed cases skyrocketed, Cala said they now feel they have been unfairly blamed.

“That’s why I think it’s important that public leaders need to speak out and say, no, this is our common, collective issue, it’s not an issue of the Filipino community,” Cala said. “No one is covering their backs. It’s more like, ‘Hey, you’re partly to blame for this.’ That’s not very good to hear.”

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Cargill is one of the two primary beef suppliers for McDonald’s Canada, and normally processes about 4,500 cattle per day at this time of year. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)