Windsor health unit asks for help as more farm workers test positive for COVID-19
Spike follows increase in testing of migrant workers
By Shawn Jeffords
TORONTO — Public health officials in Ontario’s Windsor-Essex region are asking for additional resources to deal with COVID-19 outbreaks on farms after more than 180 workers in the sector tested positive over the weekend.
Dr. Wajid Ahmed, the region’s medical officer of health, said the spike in new cases follows increased testing of farm workers.
“It was expected that the testing initiative will identify positive cases among the farm workers, but we are clearly seeing the numbers going up in that sector,” Ahmed said on Monday. “Almost all of the workers at the time of testing reported no symptoms.”
Of the region’s 88 new cases reported on Sunday, 87 were agri-food workers. On Monday, 96 of 98 positive tests were from workers in the sector.
The results represent the two highest daily case count increases in the region since the start of the pandemic.
Complications in southwest Ontario
COVID-19 cases on local farms have complicated Windsor-Essex transition to the second stage of reopening, initially holding back the entire region. The province later reversed that decision, instead holding back only Leamington and Kingsville, Ont., where the farm outbreaks are located.
The health unit reported Monday that six farms remain in outbreak, but Ahmed would not disclose the names of the operations, saying the risk they currently represent to the public is “negligible.”
While Windsor-Essex does not specify if the workers are local or part of the temporary foreign worker program, Ahmed has previously said that 90 per cent of the cases are among the migrant worker population.
Hundreds of migrant workers across the province have tested positive for the virus and three have died. Health officials have said cramped living and worker quarters continue to contribute to the spread for COVID-19.
Approximately 20,000 migrant workers come to Ontario each year to work on farms and in greenhouses — many of them from Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean. This year, they were required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.
Ahmed said he and the health unit’s CEO spent the weekend putting out calls for help to bolster local contact tracing resources.
A dozen workers from neighbouring health units — including the London-Middlesex associate chief medical officer of health — have been temporarily seconded to Windsor-Essex to help, he added.
“With the additional staffing support from the other neighbouring health units … our team of nurse practitioners, public health nurses, and public health inspectors will be on site to do health assessments on all these workers who tested positive,” he said.
Advocacy group Justice for Migrant Workers called for the shutdown of the province’s entire agri-food sector until every workplace can be fully sanitized and safety measures put in place to protect workers.
“The industry must immediately cease production and as a society we must demand that the interests of the workers are paramount not the profits of a billion dollar industry,” Chris Ramsaroop said in a statement. “All workers should be paid full salaries during the entire shut down.”
More positive tests in Kingston
Meanwhile, five more people have tested positive for COVID-19 in an outbreak related to a nail salon in Kingston, Ont.
The Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health unit said a total of 27 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus are linked to the salon.
Dr. Kieran Moore, the region’s medical officer of health, said that most of the cases related to the outbreak were showing minimal symptoms and no one had been hospitalized. All of the people who have tested positive are self-isolating at home, he said.
Moore also said that nearly 3,000 people have been tested in the area in the past week.
On Friday, the City of Kingston made wearing a face mask mandatory in all indoor public places following the outbreak at the nail salon.
Mayor Bryan Paterson said that means people will have to wear a mask to enter places including grocery stores, retail stores, restaurants and hair and nail salons.
Ontario reported 257 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and seven new deaths related to the virus. The total number of cases now stands at 34,911, including 30,196 cases marked as resolved and 2,665 deaths.
The Ministry of Health said it was able to complete more than 27,000 tests for the novel coronavirus on Sunday.
With files from John Chidley-Hill