Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News
ST. ALBERT — It could have been so much worse, said the manager of St. Albert Cheese Factory Monday after the regionally famous production plant reopened following a four-day closure to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak involving three employees.
A potential crisis was averted through quick action by the 127-year-old cooperative and full support from the Eastern Ontario Health Unit. Ten employees were isolated, close to 200 were tested for C-19, and cheese-making operations shut down. Up to 160,000 litres of milk a day coming into the plant were diverted to other Dairy Farmers of Ontario customers.
While he was shocked the factory was hit by C-19 a year into the pandemic, manager Eric Lafontaine is pleased with remedial results and the quick response. Lafontaine underlined the co-op volunteered to close temporarily to avoid spread through the community. St. Albert employees come from all parts of Eastern Ontario and into Gatineau, he noted.
After closing Friday, the store reopened Saturday — minus curds and fresh cheese — with treacherous driving conditions in the morning keeping most customers away. The restaurant has been closed all winter to meet pandemic protocols around distancing.
The good news for curd lovers is that designated shelves in the St-Albert Cheese Co-op store will be replenished with the squeaky treat beginning tomorrow (Tues., March 2).
The plant was closed until this morning and opened short of the employees still in quarantine. Because the COVID-19 in question was a variant, store staff have adopted extra protection of special goggles on top of masks and shields; goggles, Lafontaine explained, are routinely worn on the production floor.
EOHU hasn’t asked for any extra measures, the manager stated, indicating further testing is likely to be undertaken among employee family members.
Lafontaine said there have been indications vaccinations for food industry personnel will begin relatively shortly. An issue is developing around that eventuality: Can employees be forced to take the needle or is it an infringement of their human rights? Lafontaine suggested it could be hard legally to force workers to comply.
While social media chatter has largely been supportive of the quick turnaround at the cheese factory, some have suggested that, because of interconnection of the business’s departments and the community, all employees should be quarantined for the prescribed period.