Alberta’s provincial health authority is bringing attention to an increasing trend of COVID-19 cases linked with feedlot operations in southern Alberta.
Although many feedyards have implemented protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — similar to the rest of province — the industry is struggling to contain the spread of the virus.
To date, five feedlot operators have had confirmed clusters — more than one case — on their farms, says Alberta Health Services (AHS) in a notice addressed to Alberta’s cattle feeders this week.
“Since the beginning of November, we have seen an increasing trend of feedlot operations with COVID-19 across the South Zone of Alberta Health Services. This includes cases within support industries such as feed supply and trucking,” says the AHS note.
Janice Tranberg, executive director of the Alberta Cattle Feeders, stated to RealAgriculture that the industry and its business continuity depend on following protocols.
“Now that we have confirmed cases on our Alberta feedlots, we know we have to be more diligent in our prevention, our documentation, our protocols. Everything depends on it,” Tranberg explains.
AHS is recommending feedlot operators focus on three key areas to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. These are situations where AHS says it has seen transmission among feedlot employees.
The list of recommended focus areas is as follows:
- Staff rooms – This is where individuals tend to let their guards down. It is important to have measures in place at all times in the workplace. People share snacks (common trays, condiments) and have prolonged visits in close proximity in these spaces. We have seen many instances where a team of staff who share the break room unknowingly spread to colleagues, just by having lunch or coffee. People with COVID-19 are infectious (able to spread the virus), 48 hours before the onset of symptoms. With the holiday season upon us, it is common to have oranges, trays of treats, pot lucks and other activities that bring people together. It is important to remember to keep your distance from your colleagues, as they are not considered your cohort. They are like the rank steer that does not want to be caught to be treated. Try to schedule or take breaks at different times, wipe down surfaces after each use and reduce any shared items as much as possible.
- Vehicle sharing – Another common source of spread is when you carpool with a colleague, head to town for supplies or travel on the feedlot in a truck/tractor for more than 15 minutes. This is where those additional measures like masking or face coverings are an asset. You should be masked when in close proximity (within 6 feet) with a colleague for more than 15 minutes, cumulative in a day.
- Treating cattle, handling or moving animals in tight spaces (chutes, alleys, barns) – The virus can spread without masking protection of both workers (nose and mouth) in this situation. Outdoors is generally a lower risk activity, but those closer proximity interactions, where there may be more exertion (breathing heavy) is when aerosols can go farther.
Ryan Kasko, owner of Kasko Cattle, says one of the ways they are hoping to stop the spread is to minimize social interactions.
“We have office people working from home, staggered breaks for pen checkers, mandatory face masks in vehicles, and constant sanitizing of common contact points,” he explains.
Kevin Serfas is a managing partner of Serfas Farms in Turin, Alta, and operates a grain farm and feedyard. Serfas agrees with Kasko, saying the best way they feel they can combat COVID-19 on the farm is to try to keep people as distanced as possible.
“While we are not trying to lock everyone down from seeing each other, we want to stay safe. We still have coffee in the mornings but chairs are distanced now. People go their separate ways in their own vehicles,” says Serfas, adding if people do need to meet face to face, the meetings are shorter in duration, and everyone sits on different sides of the room. “For the most part, we can work together without being inside of personal space. Where everyone may have had lunch together in the past, lots may now go home instead.”
AHS also reminds feedlot operators to document their COVID-19 policies, and make them available when requested. At a minimum, AHS says it expects feedlot operators to provide names, addresses, phone numbers, date of last shift, roles and positions of staff, and workers and visitors who were potentially exposed to an infectious case, while they were at that location.