Berwick Mayor Don Clarke said the closure had an immediately noticeable impact on the town, leading to a slowdown in business and traffic. Eden Valley Poultry is Berwick’s largest employer and the city’s largest independent electric utility customer, according to Clarke. It also attracts its employees, approximately 450, from the Annapolis Valley.
Clarke said the economic impact of the two-week shutdown was not yet measurable from the city’s perspective, but he expects in the long run it will have been worth it.
“Having COVID in a factory this size with so many people in confined spaces and so on is a serious situation,” Clarke said.
“What they’re doing is the right thing to do. ”
Public health ordered the poultry plant to shut down earlier this week after finding two cases of the virus among employees. Widespread testing has since revealed four more, with some results still pending and planning to retest all employees next week.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr Robert Strang announced on Friday that the plant would have to remain closed for at least two weeks in order to disrupt the transmission cycle.
The two-week order runs until Christmas Day, but Eden Valley President Werner Barnard said they would wait until the following Monday, December 28, to reopen.
“Devastating” impact for the company
“I think any business that goes out of business for two weeks has a devastating financial impact, that’s for sure,” Barnard said.
But, he added, the nature of Eden Valley’s business means that the impact extends to all other companies in the supply chain.
During the planned shutdown, Barnard said the plant would have processed more than 800,000 chickens and turkeys. Eden Valley works with some 60 producers in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and has clients across the country and internationally.
Barnard said that even though the plant is not operating, there is still a lot of work going on with producers, customers and other processors to mitigate the effects of the Eden Valley shutdown.
As the only federally regulated poultry processor in Nova Scotia, Barnard said birds that have passed through Eden Valley will likely now be shipped out of the province for processing, possibly limiting local supply.
He called it “a big blow to the community,” in light of the upcoming Christmas request for turkeys, and a concern for food security.
Employee paychecks in limbo
While employees wait for the second round of tests, public health has asked them to self-isolate.
Among those awaiting test results is Lee Gee, who has worked at the plant for 40 years, including more than 30 years under a previous owner.
While he waits, Gee said he was busy with phone calls from other workers in Eden Valley. Gee is the president of Unifor Local 2261, which represents approximately 360 Eden Valley employees.
“Everyone is concerned about their health… and as Christmas approaches, with everything that is going on, with their paycheck,” Gee said in an interview.
Barnard said he couldn’t guarantee paychecks would come out as usual during the shutdown, but “employee welfare and financial security” were on his mind.
“Obviously at this time of year it’s devastating for employees not to be able to work and earn money… we are busy looking at all the options, but yes the intention is to do well by employees.
Otherwise, Gee said he was happy with Eden Valley’s response to the outbreak, and he felt the necessary preventative measures had been taken, such as scanning employees’ body temperatures as they walk in each day, installing plexiglass barriers and apply masking and physical distance.
Public Health says there is no evidence of community spread in western Nova Scotia, but another case of COVID-19 was detected in Berwick earlier this week, in addition to cases at the poultry plant.
A case related to the Berwick and District school resulted in the school being closed for a thorough cleaning and contact tracing for several days.
Public health has since increased testing possibilities in the region, dispatching one of the province’s mobile test vans and setting up walk-in testing sites.
Walk-in testing will be available at two sites in the region, starting Sunday:
- The Berwick Fire Station (300 Commercial Street, Berwick) on Sunday December 13 and Monday December 14 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The site will be closed between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
- The Middleton Fire Station Mobile Unit (131 Commercial Street, Middleton) Monday, December 14 from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Tuesday, December 15 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.