Ontario deploys emergency management team to address Essex farm outbreak

Published July 3, 2020 at 6:03 pm


Premier Doug Ford says a team from the province’s emergency management agency has been deployed to Windsor-Essex to help address a large COVID-19 farm outbreak.

He says Emergency Management Ontario will help co-ordinate care and housing for the 191 workers on one farm who tested positive for the virus over the weekend.

He says the agency is also working with the Canadian Red Cross, farmers and local health officials as they responds to the outbreak.

Ford also apologized for criticizing migrant workers during his briefing Thursday, when he said they were hiding from efforts to retest them for COVID-19.

Ford says his comments were based on misinformation but declined to say how he received the erroneous report.

The deployment of emergency management staff comes after the region’s medical officer of health ordered a work stoppage at the unidentified greenhouse to protect workers from the virus.

Dr. Wajid Ahmed said Friday he may issue additional orders if there is further risk to workers on local farms.

“The evidence in this particular farm pointed to the fact that there is an ongoing risk,” he said. “And that risk needs to be mitigated and controlled to protect the workers … and it may happen again, if there is any risk, and I don’t think that anyone would disagree.”

Ford, who has publicly lauded Ahmed in recent weeks, appeared to contradict and criticize the decision on Thursday, saying the order will not encourage local farmers to participate in efforts to combat the virus.

Ahmed said he did not take Ford’s comments as criticism of his policy.

“I think both the premier and myself, we are on the same page in ensuring that the safety and well-being of the workers is the most top most priority for all of us,” he said.

A group representing greenhouse growers in Ontario’s Windsor-Essex region said the work stoppage has escalated fears about testing for the virus.

The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers said in a statement that the public health order has contributed to anxiety among both farmers and workers.

“As a result of the … order we are seeing escalating fears and concerns from both employers and employees about being tested,” spokeswoman Justine Taylor said.

“It will take the concerted efforts of the sector, and most critically government, to build trust with agri-food sector that they will be supported both at the individual employee and farm business level if employees are required to isolate.”

The growers group said it is working with the provincial government to address those fears as on-farm testing continues.

Meanwhile, the province announced Friday that Canadian Forces personnel who were deployed to some of Ontario’s hardest-hit long-term care homes are leaving the facilities.

The soldiers were deployed to the homes in April after the province requested their help from the federal government.

A report from the soldiers in May highlighted shocking conditions in some of the homes, with allegations such as rooming COVID-19 positive patients with uninfected ones, insect infestations and aggressive resident feeding that led to choking.

Ford praised the work of the Canadian Forces members in the seven long-term care homes.

“From providing relief to our frontline workers, to taking care of our loved ones in long-term care homes, they have been there for their fellow Canadians when we needed them most,” he said in a statement.

The government said inspections at all of the military-supported homes have been completed and provincial inspectors remain on site.

Ontario reported 165 new cases of COVID-19 and two new deaths related to the novel coronavirus Friday.

The total number of cases now stands at 35,535, which includes 30,909 marked as resolved and 2,682 deaths.

The province reported 179 resolved cases over the previous day.

The province completed more than 24,194 tests for the novel coronavirus over the previous 24 hours.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 3, 2020.

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