Windsor health official defends move to close greenhouse over COVID-19 outbreak

Click to play video: 'Growing COVID-19 outbreaks among migrant workers in Ontario'
Growing COVID-19 outbreaks among migrant workers in Ontario
WATCH ABOVE: A health unit in Ontario has ordered a work stoppage at a farm, after 191 migrant workers there tested positive for COVID-19. Abigail Bimman explains the hazards migrant workers still face, and what advocates say needs to change. – Jul 2, 2020

TORONTO — Windsor’s medical officer of health is defending his decision to order a work stoppage at a local greenhouse with a COVID-19 outbreak after farmers and Ontario’s premier said the move will make growers less likely to co-operate with testing efforts.

Dr. Wajid Ahmed said Friday that he issued the public health order after 191 workers at an unidentified greenhouse in the Windsor-Essex region tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend.

Ahmed said he may issue additional orders if there is further risk to workers on local farms.

“The evidence in this particular farm pointed to the fact that there is an ongoing risk,” he said. “And that risk needs to be mitigated and controlled to protect the workers … and it may happen again, if there is any risk, and I don’t think that anyone would disagree.”

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Premier Doug Ford, who has publicly lauded Ahmed in recent weeks, appeared to contradict and criticize the decision on Thursday, saying the order will not encourage local farmers to participate in efforts to combat the virus.

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He also said workers “hid” from health officials trying to test them again at the outbreak site.

Ahmed said he did not take Ford’s comments as criticism of his policy.

“I think both the premier and myself, we are on the same page in ensuring that the safety and well-being of the workers is the most top most priority for all of us,” he said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus outbreaks on farms are holding back the entire region, says Windsor mayor

A group representing greenhouse growers in Ontario’s Windsor-Essex region said the work stoppage has escalated fears about testing for the virus.

The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers said in a statement that the public health order has contributed to anxiety among both farmers and workers.

“As a result of the … order we are seeing escalating fears and concerns from both employers and employees about being tested,” spokeswoman Justine Taylor said.

“It will take the concerted efforts of the sector, and most critically government, to build trust with agri-food sector that they will be supported both at the individual employee and farm business level if employees are required to isolate.”

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The growers group said it is working with the provincial government to address those fears as on-farm testing continues.

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