Windsor-Essex remains in Stage 2 amid COVID-19 outbreaks in ag sector
By Stephanie Gordon
As the majority of Ontario progresses into Stage 3, Windsor-Essex County Health Unit will remain in Stage 2. The Windsor-Essex area has been a hotspot for workplace outbreaks, including several outbreaks in agriculture.
As of August 4, there are five agricultural workplaces currently experiencing outbreaks in the Windsor-Essex area: four in Kingsville and one in Leamington. A workplace outbreak is defined as two or more employees testing positive for COVID-19 within a reasonable timeline to suspect transmission in the workplace.
The number of outbreaks is decreasing. One week ago, there were six ongoing outbreaks among agriculture workplaces.
According to Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, there are also six ongoing outbreaks in manufacturing workplaces and one outbreak in construction.
The Windsor-Essex region isn’t the only region in Ontario to face COVID-19 outbreaks on agricultural operations. In early June, more than 120 individuals from a farm in Norfolk County, Ont. tested positive for COVID-19. On July 10, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit declared the outbreak of COVID-19 at the farm over. To date, three farm workers have died in Ontario: two from Windsor-Essex and one from Norfolk County.
Some of the COVID-19 outbreaks on Ontario farms can be traced to local recruitment agencies whose contract workers moved from farm to farm. Ontario farmers have been calling on the farming community to restrict movement and limit spread.
The Ontario government acknowledged that outbreaks, especially in agriculture and agri-food sectors, “pose unique challenges that require a targeted and collaborative response.” The province recently deployed the Emergency Medical Assistance Team (EMAT) to Windsor-Essex, which is providing support and increasing the capacity of the region’s health sector.
At the peak of the Windsor-Essex outbreaks, the Ontario government shared a three-point plan to support the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit in reducing the risk of transmission on farms and throughout the community. This plan included ongoing and expanded on-site testing, access to employment benefits and supports, and public health guidance specific to the agri-food setting.
Local public health officials are assisting with the implementation of plans. Local mobile teams comprised of staff from local hospitals, Ontario Health West Region, Erie St. Clair Local Health Integration Network home and community care services, emergency medical services, and interpreters are being deployed every day and are completing regular health check assessments on-site at farms for all referred who are positive and symptomatic.
“We continue to take action to address outbreaks in the region and provide our farmers and agribusinesses in Windsor-Essex with the help, tools and resources necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of their workers and employees,” said Ernie Hardeman, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs. “We are all working together to fight the spread of COVID-19 while protecting our vital food supply chain and the health and safety of the people who put food on our tables.”
Stage 2 is defined by social gathering limits of up to 10 people (with physical distancing still practiced) and the reopening of some businesses like hair salons and restaurant outdoor patios but with protection measures in place and working from home encouraged. Learn more about what Stage 2 means.
- OMAFRA’s Enhanced Agri-food Workplace Protection Program. It can help cover 70 per cent of the costs, or up to $7,500 for implementing safety measures.
- FAQ: Navigating COVID-19 outbreaks on Ontario farms
- Workplace Safety and Prevention Services’s (WSPS) COVID-19 Hub
- WSPS’s Guidance on Health and Safety for Agricultural Employers Using Temporary Help During COVID-19