COVID-19 outbreak led to ‘unprecedented’ health-care response in High River, officials say

Officials in High River say a huge effort is underway to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the southern Alberta town.

As of Thursday, 440 workers at the Cargill meat-processing facility had tested positive for COVID-19, including one who died, with another 140 cases linked to spread in the community, in Canada’s largest outbreak.

The cases are mostly split between the small town and nearby Calgary, where many of the workers live.

Dr. Adam Vyse with the Calgary Rural Primary Care Network says that when cases first started showing up around Easter at the High River General Hospital, health-care officials mobilized quickly.

They set up a temporary phone line, worked to get people tested, provided one-on-one care, and connected them with community supports. Maternity services were moved to Calgary in anticipation of a surge in COVID-19 patients in the town of 15,000 people.

“This is really unprecedented in my experience and has involved all levels of the health-care system in a way that’s never been seen for me, that’s for sure,” Vyse said.

Dr. Jia Hu, medical officer of health for the Calgary zone, who is leading the response for AHS, says one of the key efforts now is to stop transmission.

“A lot of the people who work in Cargill live in these households with upwards of dozens of people,” Hu said.

Hotel rooms are now being used in Calgary — where roughly 60 per cent of Cargill workers live — to help those people self-isolate.

And that’s in the works in High River, too, according to Mayor Craig Snodgrass.

“To hopefully have the positive cases somewhere safe and away from infecting other family members, [they] can go and isolate for the two weeks and be supported,” he said.

“We’re doing OK and we’ve got things in place, but we’ve got a few more weeks to go before we’re through this.”

Snodgrass is calling on anyone in his community with symptoms to get tested.

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