After detecting 191 positive COVID-19 cases on one farm, health officials say all workers must isolate and additional contractors cannot be hired
By Jackie Clark
Over the weekend, health officials detected a total of 191 positive cases of COVID-19 at a farm in Windsor-Essex County. Dr. Wajid Ahmed, the medical officer of health for the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU), issued an order for the farm owner/operator to isolate workers and prohibit them from working as of July 1.
Theresa Marentette, CEO and chief nursing officer at WECHU, addressed the order in a press conference streamed online July 2.
“Yesterday our health unit issued a statement related to an order under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act to the owner/operator of a farm. The cases associated with this farm represent approximately 25 per cent of the total cases identified to date among farm workers,” Marentette said.
“Due to the size of the outbreak, the potential for further COVID-19 transmission and the risk to the health and safety of workers on the farm, Dr. Ahmed, our medical officer of health issued an order effective yesterday, July 1, requiring the isolation of workers until further notice by the medical officer of health,” she added.
WECHU staff are working with the Ministry of Health and the farm owner/operator to ensure compliance. In this case, workers will be isolating even if they test negative for COVID-19 or are asymptomatic. This change is in contrast to provincial guidelines allowing groups of workers who test positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic to continue working if isolated from workers who test negative.
“The provincial guidelines that were put out were associated with a limited amount of asymptomatic workers. … In this particular farm its not a limited amount, it’s a substantial amount,” Marentette explained. The order specifically requires the owner/operator to put workers and close contacts into isolation.
“The order also stipulates that (the owner/operator) cannot hire contract workers to attend to the farm right now,” she added.
Close contacts of workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 are also isolating, Marentette said.
As of July 2, WECHU is “reporting 1,614 cases of COVID-19 in our community,” she said. 909 cases have resolved and 68 patients have died (49 of whom were residents of long-term care and retirement homes). Four agricultural workplaces are currently experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak.
Targeted testing is ongoing on farms in the area, and health officials have seen some encouraging results on some farms with few or no positive cases.