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WECHU looks to partners to help contain 'unprecedented' outbreak
WINDSOR, ONT. -- The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) is getting help from neighbouring agencies to get a grip on the COVID-19 outbreaks in the agri-food sector in Leamington and Kingsville.
In its daily briefing on Monday, the health unit confirmed Dr. Alex Summers with the Middlesex-London Health Unit, along with two staff, had arrived in Windsor to help with contact tracing and case management.
“Every case requires a good case and contact management,” said Dr. Ahmed, the medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex. “What we are dealing with is absolutely unprecedented.”
According to Ahmed, more boots on the ground are needed to handle the outbreaks in the agri-farm sector.
The health unit lists four outbreaks at farms in Leamington and two in Kingsville.
On Sunday, the health unit reported its highest number of COVID-19 cases yet with 98 new positive tests, of which 96 were tied to the agri-farm sector. That was followed by the second-highest spike with 87 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus associated with the agri-farm sector reported on Monday.
The health unit says a total of 674 agri-farm workers have tested positive for the virus in the region.
“All of the support that we’re getting would be focused and dedicated to the case and contact management of all these additional workers,” said Ahmed. “Recognizing that following up with the more than 160, 170 cases in the two days that we have seen it is unmanageable by any single agency or any other public health unit.”
More people will be coming to the region to assist, and Dr. Ahmed says up to 11 people outside of the region will be available to support the ongoing contact tracing and case management efforts.
Health officials will work to interview each case in the coming days to determine the extent of the outbreak.
“The assessment, whether this person is a current case, active case, infectious, non-infectious, symptomatic, symptomatic and part of that is expanding the circle to link all these cases to the exposure,” said Ahmed. “It does require a little bit more deeper analysis of everything that’s happening.”
Ontario offers support
Premier Doug Ford continued to stress his government’s support for those in Kingsville and Leamington who remain under Stage 1 restrictions of Ontario’s reopening plan due to the coronavirus outbreaks on area farms.
The towns are the last in the province to remain in the first stage.
“My heart breaks for the people of Kingsville and Leamington, for the farmers, workers, and the people that live in those areas,” said Ford. “We’re behind you. Ontario’s behind you.”
Christine Elliott, the deputy premier and Ontario health minister, added a team including nurses was sent out to the farm that saw a spike in cases on Sunday to help manage contact tracing and those with positive cases.
However, the surge in COVID-19 cases does not appear to have moved the government off its policy that continues to allow asymptomatic migrant workers to continue showing up for work.
“We only want the people who are well, who are feeling well, they're positive but they're truly asymptomatic to be going back to work,” said Elliott. “That's why we really need to make sure that they have that medical examination, and the opportunity to speak to a medical professional to truly understand their situation, if they are symptomatic and positive, then they need to be housed separately.”
Ford says his government is working to root out bad actors and to keep migrant workers from working on multiple farms.
“We're reaching out to all the farmers [who] were given a list of these recruitment agencies. We found out some are fly by nighters and just trying to make a quick buck so, we're going to put an end to that,” said Ford. “I believe there’s been 70 orders given to some of the farms, we’ve done 250 inspections, and they know all the eyes are on them right now.”
Plans in the works
Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald says a weekend phone call with the premier helped to ensure the two leaders were pulling in the same direction.
MacDonald tells CTV News she is much more confident of the direction both the WECHU and the provincial and federal governments are taking in addressing the COVID-19 outbreaks on area farms.
Plans are in the works to isolate upwards of 400 migrant workers who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in hotel rooms. A plan could also be finalized as soon as Thursday that would see make-shift shelters set up at Highbury Canco Arena.
“There are pods being donated by Bruce Power. And the pods are basically four walls with a bed, a chair and a table so everyone could have their own space,” said MacDonald.
Those staying at the make-shift shelter, akin to the field hospital created at the St. Clair College Sportsplex by Windsor Regional Hospital, would be able to roam the arena to watch TV or get food while staying in the arena.