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Armando Sallegue, a 71-year-old father of a worker at the Cargill slaughterhouse in High River, Alta., is the latest person to die after contracting COVID-19 in an outbreak linked to the facility.

Courtesy of family

Armando Sallegue prayed on a rosary every day. He prayed for others without telling them, because he did not want them to feel indebted to him should his prayers be answered. For himself, he prayed that when he died, he would remain connected to God.

Mr. Sallegue died in Calgary’s Rockyview General Hospital on Tuesday evening, after being infected with the coronavirus last month. He was from the Philippines, and was living with his son, who works at Cargill Ltd.’s slaughterhouse in High River, when he fell ill. His son’s wife made sure he had a rosary with him when he was taken to the hospital.

It was white, with pearl-like beads.

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“The nurse, in the final [moment], put the rosary on his chest,” said Arwyn Sallegue, the son in High River.

The elder Sallegue was 71, widowed and dreamed of becoming a permanent resident in Canada. He loved long walks around Emerson Lake and Sunshine Lake in High River. He had 11 grandchildren, including five in High River. The grandkids called him Lolo.

Mr. Sallegue, who was placed on a ventilator, died at 6:15 p.m. local time on May 5, making it May 6 – his late wife’s birthday – in his home country. Mr. Sallegue’s wife, Perpetua, died in 2017 and the timing of his death helped console their family.

“What a great gift for my mother-in-law,” said Mercy Sallegue, his daughter-in-law in High River. The late Mr. Sallegue dreamed of being reunited with his wife, she said. Ms. Sallegue called him Papa.

Mr. Sallegue was born in Iloilo City and lived in General Santos City. In the Philippines, he founded AUS General Services, the family business, which provides maintenance services to giant fast-food chains. Two of his other sons live in the Philippines and another in Vietnam. The elder Sallegue previously had bypass surgery, the family said.

In November, 2019, Mr. Sallegue returned to the Philippines for vacation and to renew his tourist visa in Canada. He returned to Alberta in late January. His son Arwyn is a meat cutter at Cargill’s beef-processing plant in High River, which is the site of Canada’s largest COVID-19 outbreak. A Globe and Mail investigation into this outbreak revealed an environment where numerous workers said they felt pressure to continue working; nurses cleared some employees to work despite COVID-19 symptoms, positive test results, or unfinished isolation periods; and efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the processing facility were insufficient and came too late.

The High River plant reopened Monday, despite reservations from employees and their unions, after shuttering for two weeks.

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The first confirmed case of COVID-19 among Cargill workers came April 6. As of Wednesday, 946 of the roughly 2,000 employees who work there had been infected. One Cargill employee, Bui Thi Hiep, has died. At JBS Canada’s facility in Brooks, Alta., 566 employees have tested positive and one worker there has died. JBS is only running one of its two shifts.

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Alberta Health Services has conducted three inspections at Cargill and four at JBS, according to Deena Hinshaw, the province’s Chief Medical officer. AHS and Occupational Health and Safety assured her mitigation efforts, including spacing employees two metres apart, are in place, she said Wednesday.

The Sallegue family worried about the coronavirus, and tried to prevent spreading it in their home. Arwyn Sallegue, the Cargill employee, isolated in a room in their home April 7; his father isolated in another room. While in isolation, the late Mr. Sallegue prayed, watched mass on television and absorbed news from the Philippines. He later struggled to sleep, but did not have a cough or sore throat. He did not complain about feeling unwell, because he did not want his family to worry, Ms. Sallegue said. But as days passed, he became weak, struggling even to walk. The family thought perhaps he had a mild stroke.

On April 23, the family called 911 after the patriarch struggled to breathe. Arwyn Sallegue tested positive for COVID-19 the following day, and only then it began to sink in that his father may also be infected.

“It has been sad for us,” Arwyn Sallegue said. “It is also a celebration of another life. His permanent life – permanent in heaven – with my mom.

“We’re mourning, but we’re also celebrating.”

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His favourite memories of his father are the values he passed on to his family – humility, kindness and perseverance. And this is why Arwyn Sallegue does not blame Cargill for his father’s death.

“Let’s have unity instead of pointing hands and blaming each other,” he said. “Let’s help each other.”

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