Southwestern Public Health (SWPH) has issued an order outlining measures that must be followed at agricultural farms in Oxford and Elgin counties and in St. Thomas in order to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The measures will be in effect starting at noon on July 8 and will be in place until further notice, the health unit says.
The order, issued under Section 22 of Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act, includes “everything from physical-distancing practices, guidelines for accommodations, screening practices and keeping accurate and updated contact information.”
The order also impacts farms whether they employ migrant workers, temporary foreign workers, local workers or workers from temporary help agencies.
“Based on data available to Southwestern Public Health, I am of the opinion that there is a high risk of the increasing spread of COVID-19 within agricultural farms in Elgin County, Oxford County and the City of St. Thomas,” medical officer of health Dr. Joyce Lock wrote in the order.
As of July 8, Southwestern Public Health says there has only been one agricultural outbreak in its jurisdiction involving two residents and 20 temporary foreign workers “who have all since recovered.” However, the health unit stresses that the novel coronavirus spreads quickly and the order “is necessary to further protect farm workers from COVID-19.”
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit has been responding to outbreaks in the agricultural sector, mostly involving migrant workers. Windsor’s medical officer of health ordered a work stoppage at an unidentified local greenhouse after 191 workers tested positive for the coronavirus.
“This is about local economics and Ontario’s food supply chain, of course,” said Lock.
“But most importantly, it is about protecting people who live and work together on area farms who want to return home to their lives and families after the agricultural season wraps up in the fall.”
Failure to follow the requirements under the order can result in fines up to $5,000 per day.