The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit reported 15 new COVID-19 cases in the region Monday, as the Ontario government is expected to announce details of further reopening the province.
Ten of the new cases are in farm workers, three are in people who contracted the virus in the community, and two cases are being investigated.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to announce plans for Stage 3 of the province's reopening today. The development comes as the spread of COVID-19 continues to slow in Ontario, with new daily case numbers having steadily declined over the last five weeks — except in a few areas including Windsor-Essex.
Medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said as the province reopens, Windsor-Essex should look at the "lessons learned" in places of the country that opened earlier — and especially to the United States where some current outbreaks are worse than when the pandemic first began.
"It is scary, it scares me," Ahmed said of the high rate of COVID-19 seen in parts of the U.S. "What they are seeing now is what we were trying to prevent in the first place."
Ahmed said misinformation is fuelling some people's ideas the pandemic is a "conspiracy," and is urging people to follow guidelines from public health rather than opinions.
"In some areas where broader reopening has proceeded, they are experiencing an increase of COVID-19 cases. We must continue to practice COVID-19 safety measurements," he said.
Physical distancing and wearing a non-surgical mask where distancing is difficult are the main preventative measures people have, said Ahmed.
As for whether or not the region is ready for the next stage of reopening, Ahmed said COVID-19 numbers need to decline in the area and the impact of Stage 2 reopening should be looked at further, before Stage 3 would be an option. However, Ahmed said the final decision to enter the next stage is up to the province.
"What we are seeing right now is very clear that our case counts are coming from the agricultural sector ... the community spread is fairly limited," said Ahmed. "I would feel more comfortable when I see the trend continue."
According to a government document released in late April, Stage 3 includes allowing remaining workplaces to reopen "safely," and further relaxing restrictions on public gatherings.
Outdoor playgrounds will also likely reopen for use after having been closed for almost four months.
The document notes, however, that large public gatherings such as concerts and sporting events will continue to be restricted for the "foreseeable future."
Over the weekend, 20 new cases of the disease were reported in our region with half of those cases among farm workers, three in workers at separate workplaces, one in a health-care worker who works in Michigan, two being close contacts of someone who already tested positive, and four cases under investigation.
WATCH | The health unit's COVID-19 update for July 13:
On Friday, the health unit reported the region has the second-highest rate of the disease in Ontario and that the rate of COVID-19 is also now higher than the provincial average.
Roughly 824 farm workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in Windsor-Essex, most of whom are migrant workers. On Monday, medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said onsite farm testing has concluded at about 40 farms in the region, of about 176.
Last week, Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald said she wants COVID-19 testing in the agriculture sector to happen at a faster rate so that the region can better understand what it's dealing with.
"I wish it would be quicker," MacDonald said Thursday. "But we're still at the stage were it isn't mandatory so farms and employees can choose not to be tested. I wish we had a way to do it so we can get through it quicker."
Outbreaks in Windsor-Essex
Two seniors homes in the area are currently under a COVID-19 outbreak. Riverside Place long-term care home in Windsor has had one staff member test positive and Augustine Villas retirement home in Kingsville has one staff member who tested positive over the weekend.
An outbreak at Devonshire Retirement Residence retirement home in Windsor is now over.
Six workplaces are currently under a COVID-19 outbreak. One is in the manufacturing sector and five others are in the agricultural sector. The businesses are located in Leamington and Kingsville but the health unit does not name businesses under an outbreak unless there is a risk to public health, say officials.
Erie Shores Healthcare mistakenly bills migrants for COVID-19 care
A local migrant worker advocate says the mistaken billing of farm workers in Windsor-Essex who received medical attention for COVID-19 is just another deterrent for others to not access care.
Justice for Migrant Workers organizer Chris Ramsaroop told CBC News that some undocumented migrant workers have been billed for healthcare services related to COVID-19 in Windsor-Essex.
He said this should be a "tremendous concern" because if others find out, it could be another barrier to workers accessing care.
Erie Shores Healthcare communications director Arms Bumanlag told CBC News that the hospital "had a few bills that were brought to our attention that were sent in error for COVID related issues. What we've done here at Erie Shores is immediately reverse those charges and apologize."
Workers have been concerned with getting tested because they are worried of reprisals if they test positive, Ramsaroop said, adding that being mistakenly charged won't help when it comes to them getting tested or accessing care.
COVID-19 in Sarnia-Lambton
Lambton Public Health reported no new cases of COVID-19 in the region. There have been 286 total cases and overall, there have been 25 deaths.
Another 259 people have recovered.
COVID-19 in Chatham-Kent
Chatham-Kent's health unit is reporting four new cases of COVID-19. The area has had 166 total cases, but only eight cases are currently active. Those individuals are self-isolating.
In Chatham-Kent, one person has died due to COVID-19 and 156 people have recovered.