Looking to move forward safely after COVID-19 outbreak at Norfolk County farm declared over
KITCHENER -- A massive COVID-19 outbreak at a Norfolk County farm has been declared over, and now officials are looking to take the correct steps to properly move forward safely.
In a news release, Haldimand-Norfolk Public Health said the outbreak at Scotlynn Group in Vittoria was officially declared over on Friday.
All workers who had tested positive for the virus have completed their self-isolation period and can return to work.
“I think we’re all happy for Scotlynn, for the migrant workers, and certainly for the community,” said Kristal Chopp, Norfolk County mayor and chair of the Board of Health. “When you look at the totality of this, the program was really an employer-focused program as oppose to an employee-focused program.”
Around 200 workers tested positive for COVID-19 at the peak of the outbreak, and one person died from complications.
Chopp says there are lessons to be learned from what happened.
“We have two workers that have now admitted to concealing symptoms,” she said. “I think one of the biggest things we need to look at is who is taking those wellness checks and really evaluating them.”
Norfolk and Haldimand counties now administer serial sentinel testing on farms as a proactive measure.
Chopp describes this process as taking the highest risk population in a certain bunkhouse and testing around 10 per cent every couple of weeks.
“The idea being here is that it would give some sort of a signal in advance of a large outbreak, like we saw,” she said.
Chopp says she sent letters weeks ago calling on the provincial and federal governments to take control over the screen and quarantine process for migrant workers in a similar way that British Columbia has done.
She adds that they haven’t heard a response yet.
“This is a tragedy and crisis that could have been prevented a long time ago,” said Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer Justice for Migrant Workers. “Permanent status on arrival at the federal level is essential. It’s time.”
On the provincial level, Ramsaroop is calling for the inclusion of minimum wage for all farm workers and ensuring they have equal access to occupational health and safety.
“If people are getting sick here in Canada, or injured here in Canada, it’s our responsibility to take care of them,” he said. “This isn’t about good and bad employers. This is systematic overhaul that needs to happen.”
Ramsaroop adds that municipalities should enact their own Section 22 orders similar to the one by the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.