TORONTO — A testing centre dedicated to assessing the impact of COVID-19 on migrant workers in and around Windsor, Ont., will shut down, the hospital running the facility announced Tuesday — just hours after the premier promised to ramp up such testing.
Hundreds of migrant workers have been tested for COVID-19 in Windsor-Essex, a region dealing with multiple outbreaks on farms, Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference shortly after noon.
“So far we’ve tested 724 workers. We put a testing unit right in the heart of the community,” Ford said.
But just hours later, the local hospital running the centre — which opened June 9 in Leamington, Ont. — announced it would cease operations on Thursday.
Without further federal or provincial directives, keeping the centre running is not an “efficient use of resources,” Erie Shores HealthCare said in a statement.
The hospital said it also considered on-farm testing but has ruled that out, saying it would be “next to impossible” to attend to the roughly 176 agri-food farms in the region.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said targeted testing of migrant workers will continue.
Meanwhile, the City of Windsor said it was expanding an isolation centre for migrant workers who have tested positive for COVID-19. The centre was initially set up to help the city’s homeless population.
Mayor Drew Dilkens said the city had heard from local farmers that they were having difficulty finding appropriate space for workers to self-isolate if they test positive for the virus.
“We can’t do it alone,” he said. “I need others to play a part. And I need the farm owners to play a part in getting the staff tested. I need the workers to actually come and get tested.”
Dilkens also called on the province to make testing mandatory for all migrant workers in the province.
However, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she wouldn’t blame migrant workers if they were wary of getting tested, given their precarious position.
“These folks are literally at risk of being deported if they are not able to provide the labour that they are supposed to be providing to the farm,” she said. “So there has to be a guarantee put in place that they’re not going to be deported and that their health and well-being is going to be looked after.”
Two migrant workers from Mexico have died from the virus and nine farms in Windsor-Essex have active outbreaks.
Outbreaks have also been reported in Chatham-Kent and Haldimand-Norfolk.
On Monday, Mexico said it would not send any more temporary foreign workers to Canada until it received answers on why two died due to COVID-19.
That means as many as 5,000 temporary foreign workers expected to arrive in Canada in the coming months could be held back.
But the president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture said Tuesday that his organization has been told the halt applies only to farms with active outbreaks.
“They’re just doing their due diligence for their people,” Keith Currie said. “They’re making sure that anyone that has an outbreak is handling it properly.”
Currie also stressed that farms that employ temporary foreign workers are subjected to tough standards and inspections from federal, provincial, and municipal governments.
“I’m sure there’s some bad employers out there and we want to know who they are, because we want to fix that problem,” he said. “But to paint everybody with the same brush is just so unfair.”
Ontario reported 184 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 11 more deaths. Roughly two-thirds of the new cases come from Toronto, Peel Region and Windsor-Essex — the only three areas that won’t be in Stage 2 of the province’s reopening plan as of Friday.
The new cases brought the province’s total caseload to 32,554, including 2,538 deaths and 27,431 resolved cases — 218 more than the previous day.
The numbers of people in hospital and in intensive care with COVID-19 both dropped, though the number of people on ventilators rose slightly.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health is now recommending that hospitals start allowing family and caregiver visits in acute-care settings.
“Visits from family and caregivers, and other visitors contribute greatly to a patient’s quality of life and well-being,” Dr. David Williams said in a memo.
The number of outbreaks in long-term care homes dropped by two Tuesday to 67 and there are 24 ongoing outbreaks in retirement homes.
The Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority said Tuesday it has issued an order to revoke the licence of Rosslyn Retirement Residence in Hamilton. Local media reported that the home was evacuated last month after nearly every resident was infected with COVID-19.