Workplace and farm outbreaks of COVID-19 cause for concern, says local health unit

Health Unit has no problem with municipalities barring non-residents from using waterfront parking

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is keeping tabs on outbreaks of COVID-19 at two farms in Simcoe County.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner said businesses and farms have to be careful about infection control.

At one of the farms, nine workers have tested positive for the virus. Two of the workers live in Simcoe County and the other seven are from outside the jurisdiction. Testing has been done on the other workers and to date 42 results have come back negative.

The other outbreak involves three workers at a farm and two of them are from Simcoe County. Everyone at the farm will also be tested.

Gardner said he would only identify the farms and locations if it was required from a public health standpoint.

Some of those infected on the farms are foreign workers and some are not. Some live off the farms but not all of those in question. Gardner said both farms employ fewer than 100 people.

“I am concerned about farm outbreaks here given the experience elsewhere in the province,” said Gardner. “I have had discussions with the Medical Officer of Health of Windsor Essex County about his experience and advice on managing the situation. There are many people working in the farming sector that might be vulnerable.”

Two Mexican migrant workers have died from COVID-19 that they acquired in Essex County. The Mexican government announced on Tuesday it was going to block residents from coming to Canada through the temporary foreign worker program.

Gardner detailed the farm outbreaks at a media briefing in which he reported five new cases of COVID-19 in Simcoe Muskoka since Monday for a total of 527 cases to date. Of those, 442 are recoveries. Five people remain hospitalized and two of those patients are in intensive care units. The death toll remains at 36. There continues to be two institutional outbreaks. One is at Owen Hill Care Community in Barrie and the other at Creedan Valley Community Care in Creemore.

Gardner also touched on the province’s Stage 2 reopening plan, which Simcoe Muskoka moved into last week and most of the Greater Toronto Area will join June 19 except for Toronto and Peel Region.

He said it was a given that people are coming from high incident locations to lower incident locations and that the public is going to have to learn to live with the virus, adding everyone is going to have to work on this together.

Gardner was asked if restaurants should pick and choose their customers and possibly ban people who are non-residents. He said that might have a cost with the clients and be seen as discriminatory, urging restaurants and businesses to be careful with that type of practice.

His stance changed when it came to municipalities such as Barrie, Wasaga Beach and Innisfil that have banned waterfront parking to all but local residents. Gardner said that was perfectly acceptable and keeping with guidance of managing public spaces.

Gardner said people coming to the area, even if it is to their cottages, need to continue to practice physical distancing and to bring supplies with them to limit their need to go out into the community. He said wherever possible, people should look for recreation in their own community.