191 workers at Leamington greenhouse operation in isolation with COVID-19
NEWS -- A Leamington greenhouse operator and workers are facing a nightmare scenario after at least 191 employees at a single farm tested positive for COVID-19 over the last week.
Multiple sources report to CTV the impacted facility is Nature Fresh Farms.
Now, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit has ordered those workers into isolation, whether they’re symptomatic or not.
The health unit is issuing an order under section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act — effective July 1, 2020.
That means 191 workers must be isolated and cannot work until further direction from the public health body.
“A substantial amount of people,” noted Theresa Marentette, the CEO and chief nursing officer at the health unit. “So this order was put in place to protect the workers and prevent further spread on the farm.”
It supersedes previous provincial direction, which stated asymptomatic workers could continue working.
The farm was not identified by the health unit.
But Santiago Escobar from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union says he spoke with numerous workers currently in isolation from Nature Fresh Farms in Leamington. They confirm that’s where entire shifts of workers have not shown up, because they’re in quarantine, forcing some to work double shifts to compensate for the lack of available workers.
“He was told that the greenhouses have shut down, but the packaging area will be operating business as usual,” said Escobar, a UFCW representative.
The farm brought testing on-site June 24, 2020
In an interview with CTV News that day, owner and president Peter Quiring predicted an influx of positive COVID cases.
“I expect fully expect there will be a big number of positive cases today,” said Quiring on June 24. “Again, it’s a difficult conversation, but we’re not running and hiding, we’re facing what we need to do and we’re going to do the right thing.”
According to the health unit, 191 people are now being placed in isolation in area hotels.
Part two of the order also stops the employer from hiring replacement labour.
Last week, Quiring indicated this outcome would not bode well for his crop.
“If we were to shut down today, we would lose the rest of the year, which would make this a catastrophe for us,” Quiring said. “That’s not why people we’re not getting tested, but it’s also true.”
During his media briefing Thursday, Premier Doug Ford wouldn’t name the operation in question.
“There’s a lot of farms on the brink right now,” Ford warned, not wishing to make matters worse for farmers.
Ford urged workers not to be afraid or hide from heath officials, promising they won’t be sent home if they get a positive result. “You will get paid,” he said.
The Premier adds he’s in constant communication with area leaders and politicians, with teams in the region to assist with housing, testing and translation.
“I understand where the chief medical officer is, but do you think that encourages other farmers to cooperate when all of the sudden one of their friends gets their farm shut down like that?” Ford said. “We’re working on this, around the clock we’re working on this.”
To date, 689 people in the local agri-food industry have tested positive and two have died.
CTV Windsor reached out to Nature Fresh Farms for comment several times Thursday and did not receive a response by the time of publishing.