The COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a toll in Ontario, where the death of a Mexican temporary foreign worker was announced by the Windsor-Essex Health Unit. On June 1, Dr. Wajid Ahmed, medical officer of health, confirmed that the deceased worker, in his 30s, had been diagnosed on May 21 and had been self-isolating in a motel. This is the first death of a temporary foreign worker in Canada due to the virus.
“We continue our diligent work with our growers to ensure they’re aware of the most aggressive measures they can take to protect their workers, their families and their communities,” said Joe Sbrocchi, general manager, Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers in a June 1 news release. “We’re also working closely with government health officials, who oversee and approve all on-farm protective measures designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
Windsor-Essex is not the only area struggling with the virus. Scotlynn Group, a large vegetable operation known for its asparagus, sweet corn and watermelons in Norfolk County, announced a major outbreak among its 207 Mexican workers. As of June 1, 125 had tested positive with seven workers admitted to hospital and four released.
Scott Biddle, president, Scotlynn Group, told CTV News that these workers had successfully completed a 14-day quarantine in May. Community transmission is suspected. The workers visited a local grocery store, one hour prior to public opening, but have had no other community contact.
The company has shut down temporarily to accommodate disinfection. With a large portion of its workforce now in self-isolation, the Scotlynn Group is asking for local workers to apply in teams of five to work in 10-acre asparagus fields. The pay is $25/hour/person for the hours of 7 am to 4 pm, according to its Twitter account.
Essex and Norfolk counties represent two of the most intense production areas of Ontario’s horticulture. Essex employs about 8,000 temporary foreign workers, largely in the greenhouse sector, while Norfolk employs about 5,000 workers for field vegetables and orchards.
In his June 1 news conference, Dr. Ahmed said that the health unit communicates almost every day with each foreign worker in self-isolation. The intent is to give those workers written and verbal instructions, in their native language, to make sure they know how to access medical assistance if required. The liaison official of the Mexican consulate is involved in communicating with the family of the deceased.
Sources: Windsor-Essex Health Unit/ The Simcoe Reformer June 1, 2020.