An Amazon facility in Brampton must close and all of its workers must self-isolate for 14 days effective midnight Saturday amid a COVID-19 outbreak, Peel Public Health said Friday.
“The current public health investigation has determined that high-risk exposure to COVID-19 for everyone working at Amazon Heritage cannot be ruled out. Over the past few weeks, the rate of COVID-19 infection across Peel has been decreasing while the rate inside this facility has been increasing significantly,” a statement from medical officer of health Dr. Lawrence Loh read Friday.
All workers at the facility located at 8050 Heritage Road are required to self-isolate until March 27, unless “they have tested positive in the last 90 days and completed their isolation period as directed by public health,” the statement continued.
The health unit said it has been working closely with Amazon to contain the outbreak, which began in October and has since been linked to more than 600 cases with nearly half emerging in the last few weeks. The closure would also allow for the company to pursue “additional operational changes” the health unit has recommended in order to avoid future outbreaks, said Loh.
“There’s evidence that those cases are actually spreading outside the contained clusters that have been previously identified,” he said.
Several of the recent cases found have involved more contagious variants of COVID-19, although those are not believed to be a key driver of transmission, Loh said.
“This Amazon facility is in a vulnerable community and employs thousands of people,” Loh said. “Immediate action must be taken to protect these essential workers and the community where they live.”
The decision was a difficult but necessary one to stop the outbreak from spreading further in both the facility and the community,” Loh said.
“Essential workers remain the backbone of our community and I continue to urge both employers and policy makers to provide paid sick leave to anyone impacted by COVID-19,” he said.
Loh said his public health unit has asked Amazon to provide workers all the resources they need to self-isolate properly, including paid leave.
A spokesman for Amazon Canada argued that there’s little risk of catching the virus within the facility, saying that a recent round of tests came back with a positivity rate of less than one per cent.
“We do not believe the data supports this closure and we will appeal this decision,” Dave Bauer said in an email. “This closure may have some short-term impact on our Canadian customers, but we will work to recover as quickly as possible.”
Amazon said the employees will be paid while in quarantine, in accordance with company policy.
The news comes two days after Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie and Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown called on the province to loosen restrictions in Peel Region.
Both mayors have been vocal in their desire for the region to move from the grey-lockdown zone to the red zone in the province’s colour-coded framework.
Crombie previously said she has asked Premier Doug Ford and Loh to move Mississauga into the red level, which would allow gyms to reopen with capacity limits and indoor restaurant dining and personal care services to also resume with restrictions.
Meanwhile, Brampton council voted Wednesday to ask the province to move Peel Region into the red zone as soon as possible.
—With files from The Canadian Press