COVID-19 outbreak at Norfolk farm sees 190 people in quarantine

VITTORIA— An outbreak of coronavirus at an asparagus farm south of Simcoe is now reaching a new level of local concern after Brantford leaders say they were not informed the infected persons would be brought to Brantford hotels for isolation.

A total of 164 of the 216 migrant workers employed by Scottlyn Group, men ranging in age from 21 to 71 years old, became infected with COVID-19.

Seven were admitted to Norfolk General Hospital over the weekend. Four of them have now been released. Two of the infected persons are in the ICU.

Marlene Miranda, General Manager of Health and Social Services in Haldimand-Norfolk told Ontario’s Health Services Appeal and Review Board that another 55 people were believed to have come into contact with those infected. Just 12 of those people are in quarantine as a precaution.

The workers underwent a mandatory 14 day quarantine upon reaching Canada and were on the farm for just around 20 days when the first cases began to show up.

Miranda told the review board that two of the workers had symptoms of coronavirus during the initial quarantine period, but did not inform their employer.

Brantford Mayor Kevin Davis and Brantford-Brant MPP Will Bouma are both expressing frustration that a situation that began in Haldimand-Norfolk was being shifted into Brantford-Brant without Brant County or Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit officials consulting with local leadership ahead of housing infected workers in the city.

On Tuesday, Dr. Elizabeth Urbantke, Acting Medical Officer of Health for the Brant County Health Unit said workers affected by the outbreak began arriving in Brantford area hotels over the weekend to begin their mandatory 14 day isolation period.

“We expect by the end of today, 122 workers will be housed at area hotels,” said Urbantke.

Urbantke said the men are all asymptomatic or minimally asymptomatic and were given instructions to remain in their rooms for the duration of their stay. Hotel staff were briefed on how to properly dispose of trash and linens safely. All rooms and will be professionally disinfected after the workers have completed quarantine.

Brantford-Brant MPP Will Bouma said in a statement that he was “deeply troubled to learn about the lack of information” shared on the decision to house 122 infected workers in the city of Brantford.

Mayor Davis told The Expositor that he too was frustrated with the lack of information sharing ahead of the decision to house infected workers in the city. He is now pressing provincial officials to investigate why Brantford was being made responsible to mitigate a Haldimand-Norfolk situation — and if all options to house the infected workers in Haldimand-Norfolk were exhausted prior to that decision being made.

Approximately 20,000 migrant workers come to Ontario each year to work on farms and in greenhouses. Many of the workers come from Mexico, the Caribbean and Guatemala and when they arrived this year they were required to self-isolate for 14 days. The workers in the Vittoria farm outbreak were reported to be predominantly from Mexico.

Outbreaks have affected dozens of migrant workers in Chatham-Kent, Windsor-Essex, Niagara Region and Elgin County.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s New Democrats called on the provincial government Tuesday to help the province’s agricultural community deal with the pandemic.

“Premier Doug Ford needs to immediately deploy resources to hotspots, and in the agricultural sector, that must include mobile testing units, local motel or hotel facilities for isolation, personal protective equipment, and ensured access to clean water and sanitation,” said NDP labour critic Wayne Gates.

Ford said on Monday he wanted to ramp up testing for the workers and that he would have more news on that effort in the coming days.

He also said the province may have to consider making changes to the communal nature of the bunkhouses in the future, but it would be hard to take that action during the pandemic.

“It’s something we can put on the table,” he said. “Can we do it in within a month or so? I just don’t think that’s reality. But what we can do, we can go in and test frequently. I think it’s critical that we do.’’ (with CP files)

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