Rumours of COVID-19 exposure risks in Amherst largely unfounded

Emmerson Packaging logo against a white background.
A memo sent to all employees of Emmerson Packaging on January 3rd sparked worried rumors online. Photo by Emmerson Packaging.
Meg Cunningham - CHMA - SackvilleNB | 05-01-2021
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Employees of Emmerson Packaging in Amherst, Nova Scotia received a troubling memo on Sunday.

On Jan. 3, an employee wrote and distributed a memo that said a person “in or around Amherst” had tested positive for COVID-19.

The memo went on to stress COVID-19 procedures within Emmerson Packaging, and said that contacts of the confirmed case may be tested.

Moments later, the memo circulated social media and rumours brewed, including one that suggested that volunteers and employees of Amherst Fire Department were possibly exposed to the virus.

CHMA did some digging and has a clearer picture of the events.

In short, the chance of COVID-19 transmission within the Amherst Fire Department and Emmerson Packaging was not impossible, but is unlikely.

CFO of Emmerson Packaging Stephen Slauenwhite says he was on the phone with Nova Scotia’s Department of Health all morning.

The Department of Health told Slauenwhite there was a case of COVID-19 in the northern Nova Scotia Health Authority zone, which includes Amherst.

Slauenwhite was unable to confirm whether the case was in Amherst.

That case, however, was not a person who works for Emmerson Packaging.

The case was confirmed on Dec. 31, 2020. Contact tracing revealed the person caught COVID-19 from one of their contacts in New Brunswick, who lives in Zone 1. The transmission is believed to have occurred on Dec. 27.

On Dec. 17, ten days prior to that, the northern zone case attended an event in which many Amherst firefighters and four Emmerson Packaging employees were present.

According to Slauenwhite, the Department of Health is “confident” that the person did not have COVID-19 at the time of the event.

The event is described as an “unlikely exposure,” and attendees were not ordered to self-isolate by the Department of Health.

There are six people who work as firefighters and for Emmerson Packaging, four of whom attended the event on Dec. 17.

Despite the low risk of transmission, the Department of Health alerted all who attended in case contact tracing or testing was necessary.

Having received a notice from the Department of Health as a precautionary measure, a concerned employee contacted a co-worker at Emmerson Packaging.

The employee, who Slauenwhite says is not usually responsible for writing or distributing memos of this nature, then released the memo to all employees of Emmerson Packaging.

Memos are typically written by the human resources department, and are then authorized by Slauenwhite.

While it is not mandated by the Department of Health, Slauenwhite says that all affected employees have been asked to stay home from work until they have tested negative for COVID-19.