Ontario announces three-point plan to stop COVID-19 outbreaks in Windsor-Essex
WECHU Environmental Health Department, along with federal and provincial officials are are attending area farms to conduct joint inspections in Essex County. (Courtesy Windsor-Essex County Health Unit)
WINDSOR, ONT. -- The Ontario government is implementing a three-point plan to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 on farms and throughout Windsor-Essex.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford says recent outbreaks, especially those in the agriculture and agri-food sectors, pose unique challenges that require a targeted response.
"We are doing everything we can to help Windsor-Essex contain this virus and get back on track, so we can allow local businesses to reopen and get more people back to work," said Ford. "Clearly, our agricultural sector in this part of the province is being hit particularly hard. Our three-point plan will give farmers the support they need to protect essential workers and ensure they can keep putting food safely on our tables."
By taking immediate action, health officials hope to stop the spread of the virus and move Leamington to Kingsville into Stage 2 as soon as it is safe to do so. The other municipalities in the region - Windsor, Amherstburg, Lakeshore, Essex and LaSalle – are allowed to move to Stage 2 on Thursday.
Details of the plan were provided Wednesday by Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, and Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development.
"By providing both farmers and employees with economic certainty, this three-point plan will allow the rapid scaling up of testing in agri-food sector workplaces across the region," said Minister Elliott. "These targeted actions build on the collaborative and comprehensive response already in progress and will allow us to better identify and isolate cases so we can move this region into Stage 2 and safely reopen."
Provincial officials say the three-point plan builds on the work already underway by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit and enhances the coordinated efforts of the province, federal and local authorities.
Here are the plan's three points:
Ongoing and expanded on-site testing
Ontario is continuing to facilitate on-site testing at agri-food businesses and community assessment centres to make proactive testing more timely and accessible. About 350 asymptomatic workers have been tested at their work site since on-site testing launched this past weekend. Ontario is currently engaging employers to schedule more mobile testing on farms.
Access to Employment Benefits and Supports
Temporary foreign workers are entitled to the same benefits and protections as any other worker in Ontario. That includes workers' compensation benefits, which are administered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). It also includes protections afforded by the Employment Standards Act. Under Ontario's new infectious disease emergency leave provisions, a worker's job is protected while they take unpaid leave due to COVID-19.
In certain cases, temporary foreign workers may also be eligible to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). To access the federal benefit, workers must have earned $5,000 in the last 12 months or in the previous year.
New Public Health Guidance
The Chief Medical Officer of Health will issue new public health guidance allowing positive asymptomatic workers to continue working as long as they follow the public health measures in their workplace to minimize the risk of transmission to others.
Local mobile teams are being deployed each day and are completing regular health check assessments on-site at farms for all referred who are positive and symptomatic.