Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit issues order for region’s farm operators to step up worker protections

Daily screening of local and temporary foreign workers

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) has handed down an order that compels local farms to increase COVID-19 safeguards for employees, especially migrant workers.

The SMDHU issued an order on Wednesday, under the Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA) to employers of farm workers in Simcoe and Muskoka. The order requires all farm owners and operators to take action to protect their labour force, including local and temporary foreign workers.

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“Although public health guidelines have been provided to protect migrant farm workers, the spread of COVID-19 in this group in our region and Ontario tells us that they continue to be vulnerable due to the nature of their working and living conditions,” said Dr. Colin Lee, SMDHU’s associate medical officer of health. “Temporary migrant and local farm workers are essential workers and vital to our farming industry and food system, and we need to protect them and the broader community from COVID-19 transmission. The Order will strengthen our resolve and efforts to prevent and control current and future outbreaks.”

The HPPA order requires farm owners/operators to conduct daily active screenings of all employees. They must also ensure their employees are exclusively working within one facility, and remain in the same team or work pd while there. Accurate and updated contact information must be maintained under this order, should the SMDHU be required to take contact tracing steps.

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On Friday, the SMDHU announced an additional 25 cases of COVID-19 were added to its caseload, a record high for the region. Officials partially attributed the sudden rise to an outbreak at a farm in New Tecumseth.

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This comes as the province announces added steps are being taken to protect migrant workers in Windsor-Essex; the region was held back from entering stage 2 of recovery following outbreaks among migrant workers there. Health Minister Christine Elliot said the province will be expanding on-site testing throughout the region. Over 350 asymptomatic workers have been screened since on-site testing began over the weekend.