Mass testing for migrant workers planned following death of 24-year-old man
Published Saturday, June 6, 2020 11:07AM EDT Last Updated Saturday, June 6, 2020 6:23PM EDT
WINDSOR, ONT. -- A mass testing program targeted at migrant workers in Windsor-Essex will be rolled out next week after the death of a second temporary farm worker due to COVID-19 – the youngest victim in the region.
On Friday, a 24-year-old migrant worker died at Windsor Regional Hospital (WRH) of the novel coronavirus, according to a statement from a hospital spokesperson. The young man from Mexico was first admitted to Erie Shores Hospital in Leamington on June 1 before being transferred to Windsor.
A 31-year-old migrant worker also died this week due to COVID-19.
"I have a 20-year-old son and I cannot imagine a family losing their 24-year-old son to COVID,” said David Musyj, the president and CEO of WRH.
Musyj tells CTV News plans had already been in the works to move forward with mass testing but, following the two migrant worker deaths, it was clear a more aggressive approach was needed more quickly.
“Unfortunately, when you have deaths of individuals – it’s not working,” says Musyj of the current measures in place.
Thus far, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) has been working with the agri-food sector to help mitigate risks associated with farm labour during the pandemic.
As part of the effort, COVID Assessment Teams based in Leamington have been working this week with migrant workers to identify and contain cases.
Beginning on Tuesday, migrant workers will be subject to the mass swabbing and the Nature Fresh Recreation Centre in Leamington will serve as a COVID-19 Assessment Centre and Clinic meant to screen and test the migrant worker population in Essex County.
Health officials are aiming to test each one of the approximately 8,000 migrant workers in the region over a 10-14-day period.
“This expanded testing is only possible due to the extra capacity enabled by the provincial government’s direction to increase testing under their enhanced testing strategy,” says Dr. Wajid Ahmed, the medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex, in a news release.
“We are confident that this will enhance our understanding of COVID-19 among the agri-food sector and guide further planning and public health intervention,” Ahmed continues.
In an interview with CTV News, Ahmed says the most recent death is a unique situation. He says while the case will be counted as COVID-19 death, the young man had underlying health conditions that likely contributed to his passing.
“He stayed at the hospital. He recovered, went back to work and unfortunately, he developed the same type of symptoms that was originally from his underlying medical condition,” says Ahmed.
Essex County’s bustling farming and greenhouse sector has been identified by health officials as a hotspot that could lead to new waves of the virus – if not contribute to a dreaded second wave of the pandemic.
Living conditions, which often include bunkhouses where upwards of 15 to 20 workers could live at any one time, have been targeted by activists as a particularly problematic condition of agriculture work for temporary foreign workers.
“Anyone who is working in these workplaces not only have the potential to spread the disease at the workplace but, also in the community if they are not appropriately tested,” says Ahmed.
However, calls for further restrictions and regulations are not likely to come anytime soon.
Musyj says right now the moment calls for action but, expects changes following the crisis for sectors like the agri-food industry and long-term care homes.
“I’m confident some positive changes will come out of all of those types of areas for the betterment of the individuals who have to live in those situations, the staff that have to take care of them as well as for the rest of the community,” said Musyj.
The mass swabbing program will see healthcare agencies across Windsor-Essex team to administer the testing, including area hospitals, Essex-Windsor EMS and the WECHU.
According to the WECHU, the new testing model will include farm and agri-business employees within the region in addition to migrant workers.
On Saturday, the WECHU released its daily updated on COVID-19 figures in the region including ten new cases to bring the total to 1,009.
The deaths tied to COVID-19 also increased by one from 66 on Friday to 67 on Saturday.
A total of 577 cases have been resolved while one COVID-19 outbreak remains at the Heron Terrace long-term care home.