St-Albert Cheese Cooperative re-opens store after COVID-19 outbreak
Published Saturday, February 27, 2021 4:41PM EST
ST-ALBERT, ONT. -- It was a quick decision Wednesday but one Eric Lafontaine is glad he made.
After two workers at the St-Albert Cheese Cooperative tested positive for a COVID-19 variant of concern, Lafontaine shut down the plant east of Ottawa, and had all of his employees tested the next day.
"Everybody was nervous because when it’s spreading like that you don’t know, and because especially it was the variant," Lafontaine, the director general of St-Albert Cheese Cooperative said.
One additional positive case was found; also a variant of concern.
Luckily, it was a worker who Lafontaine already had isolating as a precaution.
The Eastern Ontario Health Unit has been testing all the results, and while they aren’t complete, Lafontaine says early signs are positive.
"Right now we’re still waiting the final result of the health unit, but so far what we got in is mostly 90 per cent, and 90 per cent is negative so that’s a really good sign, so we know it didn’t spread across. That’s the most important thing."
According to Lafontaine, all three employees who tested positive for the virus are experiencing mild symptoms.
As of Saturday the store is now open, but production at the plant remains halted while the other employees finish isolation and wait for negative test results.
"Shutting down a couple of days, having the result, giving us at least a good look of what’s going on and right now with the result we have, we’re happy," Lafontaine noted.
Although the decision to shut down operations wasn’t easy, Lafontaine feels it was the right one; something he believes is confirmed by the low case count.
"The health unit didn’t force us to close but because it was a variant we had a concern. They had a concern too. So we decided to take a break, make sure everybody is analyzed, and we know exactly what’s going on," he said.
The Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) says the outbreak is not a threat to the public and that the cheese is still safe to eat.
Still, there is concern about the spread of variants within the region.
"I'm not surprised. We’ve always been worried about it and again this is another reason for us to be extra cautious moving forward," Eastern Ontario Health Unit Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said.
The EOHU has confirmed four cases involving variants of concern within the region. Three are connected to the outbreak in St Albert but the fourth is unrelated.
"Seeing as these variants are much more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19, it is essential that we continue taking the precautions recommended by public health until a majority of the population is vaccinated," Dr. Roumeliotis said.
The health unit has not identified which variant or variants could be spreading within the region. They say the tests are currently awaiting genetic sequencing.
Production at the St Albert Cheese Cooperative is expected to resume in a limited-capacity on Monday. Lafontaine expects to return to their full staffing compliment within a week.