COVID-19 outbreak declared at Simcoe farm

·2 min read

A Norfolk County farm is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak after three migrant workers at Schuyler Farms in Simcoe tested positive for the disease.

Farmer Brett Schuyler said the first person was diagnosed on Monday, after aches and a fever prompted him to go for a COVID-19 test.

The health unit tested the 20 other workers in that worker’s bunkhouse on Wednesday, finding two more positive cases.

Schuyler said health unit staff were at the farm Thursday testing an additional 50 workers.

The affected workers are currently in self-isolation, and Schuyler said his main goal is to keep his entire workforce safe and healthy.

He said on Thursday that the first worker to come down with the disease is feeling better and did not require hospitalization.

Schuyler Farms, a major grower of apples and sour cherries, employs over 200 migrant workers along with additional Canadian staff and day labourers. In the spring, Schuyler divided the workers into “cohorts” to avoid the potential spread of the virus were it to enter the farm. He also put in place mandatory mask use, social distancing and regular cleaning protocols that he credited with keeping workers safe throughout the season.

In what he called a “devastating” development, Schuyler said the positive cases prompted the Jamaican government to cancel return trips for some of his workers who were due to fly home Thursday night.

As far as how losing this cohort of workers will affect farm operations, Schuyler caught a break as the apple harvest is finished and what workers that remain on the farm are focused on pruning trees for next season and other maintenance.

This is the first COVID-19 case at Schuyler Farms, but Schuyler himself is no stranger to the health unit. He led the opposition to Dr. Shanker Nesathurai’s three-person limit on migrant workers quarantining after their arrival to Canada, a stipulation that is unique to Haldimand-Norfolk and that Schuyler has argued in court is excessive and causes delays in bringing in needed workers.

Schuyler’s successful appeal of the medical officer of health’s Section 22 order before the Health Services Appeal and Review Board was later reversed by the Ontario Court of Justice after Nesathurai appealed the board’s ruling.

The Ontario Court of Appeal is currently weighing whether to grant Schuyler’s request for another review of the three-person limit, which Schuyler said he is pursuing so that farmers have a clear idea of what the quarantine rules will be for next year.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator