He ‘took care of everything’: Family remembers Manitoba poultry plant worker who had COVID-19

A close family member of a man who died earlier this month after testing positive for COVID-19 is remembering him as a family man and dedicated member of the Sudanese community.

Gabriel Deng, 42,  worked for the last several years at the Exceldor Cooperative poultry plant — formerly a Granny’s Poultry plant — in Blumenort, Man. In late September he tested positive for COVID-19, and he died a few weeks later.

“In the very beginning he just had a headache. He came from work and he talked to his roommate that he wasn’t feeling well,” said Andrew Ring, Deng’s cousin.

On Oct. 11, though, Deng passed out in the bathroom of his house and was rushed to hospital.

Ring got a call at about 1 p.m. that he had died.

Gabriel Deng died on Oct. 11 after testing positive for COVID-19. He had underlying health conditions, his family says. (Gabriel Deng/Facebook)

“It’s tough, very tough,” he said. “I’m still in emotions.”

Ring says his cousin had a heart condition that likely contributed to his death.

In an email to CBC News, Gabrielle Fallu, a spokesperson for the Quebec-based Exceldor, said the company reached out to the family and expressed their condolences.

“We were shocked and saddened by this sudden event,” she said.

As of Monday, there are 44 cases of COVID-19 within the plant and 11 have recovered. Including the positive cases, 89 people are self-isolating, Fallu says, adding there is still no indication that COVID-19 is spreading within the workplace.

“Exceldor investigated every single one of the cases, and results show that all the measures in place are effective in avoiding contamination among employees in the workplace,” she said in an email.

“Our role is to ensure a safe working environment for our employees and to raise as much awareness as possible on the precautions to take outside the workplace.”

Need for paid sick days: union

The union that represents about 500 workers at the poultry plant says it’s largely happy with how Exceldor is handling the situation, although it’s concerned about how high the numbers of risen.

Last week, Exceldor says workers are able to apply for paid sick leave though their Blue Cross plan, but the union says close contacts who have to self-isolate should also be able to have their lost wages covered.

“This highlights a need for paid sick days to be a priority for workers to be brought in both during the pandemic and after,” said Bea Bruske, the secretary-treasurer for UFCW Local 832.

There have now been 27 employees at the Blumenort, Man. poultry plant who have tested positive for COVID-19, the company says. (Patrick Foucault/CBC)

For Ring, Deng’s legacy will live on, but he worries about his family who are still in South Sudan.

When he moved to Canada in search of a better life, he sent back money to support his mother and a child she’s caring for.

“He’s the one who took care of everything. So today, I don’t know how they’re going to be,” Ring said.

“I’m going to miss him because he supports all the time.”