CALGARY -- Cargill has begun work to temporarily idle its meat processing plant in High River following a COVID-19 outbreak that's seen more than 350 employees and members of their households test positive

"This was a difficult decision for our team who are operating an essential service and are committed to delivering food for local families, access to markets for ranchers, products for our customers’ shelves and jobs for local employees," Jon Nash, North American lead for Cargill, said in a statement.

The announcement came hours before Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said during Monday's daily COVID-19 update that one of four new deaths being reported was an employee at the Cargill plant.

The company is also encouraging its 2,000 employees to be tested.

"We care deeply about our employees. They are everyday heroes of the food system and each person continues to be a valued member of our team."

In an effort to prevent food waste, Nash added "approximately three million meals currently in our facility are being processed as quickly as possible." 

It's not clear how long the plant will be shuttered or if workers will be paid during the shutdown.

The Cargill outbreak is being linked to an outbreak at Seasons Retirement Communities in Calgary after an employee — who has had close contact with someone in their household who works at Cargill — tested positive.

As of Monday afternoon, there are 2,908 lab confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alberta and 59 deaths are being linked to it.

With files from The Canadian Press