Outbreak at greenhouse grows with migrant workers

01-06-2020    13:36   |    The London Free Press

UK- The COVID-19 infection rate from a St. Thomas greenhouse business has spiked to 19 as 11 more migrant workers tested positive Saturday, officials say.

The workers are quarantined in their apartment-style homes in London and no one has yet been hospitalized, said Alex Summers, associate medical officer of health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit.


“I’m not surprised the outbreak has gone to 19 so quickly given the close nature of the environment,” Summers said. “It’s why we acted so quickly.”


The health unit tested 60 workers, all those that live in London. The health unit responsible for St. Thomas and Elgin County is testing more workers.


“Everyone is in isolation. There are a range of symptoms now, but no one is in hospital,” Summers said.


Friday, public health officials reported eight workers tested positive at Ontario Plants Propagation in St. Thomas, which supplies greenhouse vegetable plants to the industry.


The health unit has had “excellent co-operation” from the greenhouse, Summers added.


But that 19 total may climb still as the Southwestern Public Health, the health unit for St. Thomas and Elgin County, has tested 47 workers and they are still awaiting test results, said spokesperson Megan Cornwell.


The tests were conducted Friday at St. Thomas-Elgin general hospital and on-site by paramedics.


“The operator of this farm has been tremendously co-operative,” Summers said of the business. “We believe that this outbreak is now contained. Of course, we will be monitoring this over the next couple of weeks.”


The London-area health unit does not believe others outside the migrant farm worker community were exposed.


The first case was identified Monday evening.


“All the migrant workers came to Canada had to quarantine for 14 days. So if they brought infection to Canada, we would have caught it before they went to work,” said Joyce Lock, Southwestern Public Health’s medical officer of health.

“We are cautiously optimistic there will be no further cases between individuals who were in contact with the infected individuals.”


The St. Thomas outbreak is the latest example of a troubling trend, said Syed Hussan, executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.


“These people are not commodities to fulfill a labour shortage,” he said. “These are human beings who are facing indignity, dangerous work, degrading work, low-paying work, without any real support.”


Migrant workers are not a COVID-19 risk, but are put at risk of contracting the virus in their work and living spaces, Hussan said. And they don’t enjoy the same labour protections as Canadian citizens or permanent residents.


“This is the state of our country,” he said. “It’s not a question about if we’re surprised by these outbreaks, it’s a question of injustice and . . . how long the people of this country will eat food every day without sparing a moment of thought to the people that actually feed them.”


The London-area outbreak comes just as the nearby Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit announced a COVID-19 outbreak among migrant workers at an undisclosed farm. Three workers – one who tested positive for the virus, two others with symptoms – were admitted to hospital in Simcoe.


The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit issued a controversial order limiting to three the number of migrant workers allowed to quarantine together in a bunkhouse on arrival in Canada. That directive is under appeal.


It also has asked migrant workers to carry identification cards certifying they’ve completed their mandatory 14-day isolation on arrival.


In late April, 49 COVID-19 cases were confirmed among contract workers at Greenhill Produce in Kent Bridge, near Chatham. More than 100 workers were isolated, but none hospitalized, in Chatham-Kent’s single biggest outbreak since the pandemic began.


With files from Heather Rivers

Source: The London Free Press
Photo Credit:
Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press

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