A sudden spike in agri-farm cases in Windsor-Essex was "expected," according to one migrant worker advocate.
On Friday, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit reported 17 agri-farm worker cases from an outbreak at a Kingsville business. The health unit isn't releasing the name of the operation. This is the highest number of cases the local sector has seen in the last few weeks.
Assistant professor at Western's School of Nursing Susana Caxaj, who is part of a working group that develops migrant worker public health policies, said these sorts of outbreaks in the agri-sector will continue.
"I think that in terms of outbreaks among migrant agricultural workers, there haven't been significant changes to our approach to preventing spread and risk among this population," she told CBC News Friday. "So it's not surprising, unfortunately, to see another outbreak."
She said housing accommodations need to be better and that local health care services must strengthen their relationship with workers so that they are more accessible to this population.
"We cannot ask government officials and public health units to forge a relationship with migrant agricultural workers through their employer. It's not appropriate. Put yourself in their shoes. Nobody wants their health plans to be mediated through their employer," she said.
She added that workers need a pathway to independently access medical care that allows for a follow-up and continuity of care. She suggested a point of contact that agricultural workers can go to to express their healthcare concerns and depend on to be connected to a health care provider.
"Because workers are in overcrowded conditions and because there isn't the infrastructure in place often-times to ensure adequate distancing from migrant agricultural workers, it's worrying that these numbers will even increase beyond this," she said.
Situation is 'contained', 'controlled'
Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos told CBC News Friday that he is concerned about the outbreak, but feels confident in the strategies they have put in place since the sector was first hit months ago.
"The experience that we've gone through, the protocols that have been put in place, the support and lessons we've learned from EMAT [the province's Emergency Medical Assistance team], when they provided that support for us early on in the pandemic, those lessons are now basically ingrained within our processes," he said.
Some of these protocols include increased hygiene and screening employees before they come to work.
"We're fortunate to have, obviously, the situation contained. A controlled isolation is in place for the workers," he said.
He said the workers are currently isolating at the City of Windsor's isolation and recovery centre, and that the health unit is following up with tracking and tracing each case.
Santos continued to say that the outbreak was likely spurred by the congregate living settings that workers are housed in and that they continue to work toward refining these conditions.
He said continued testing is essential.
"My comfort level is much greater today than it was three months ago, obviously, in terms of the protocols we have in place, the plans to help respond," he said.
"So the concerns of what we saw earlier this summer isn't weighing as heavy as it was previously. So I certainly feel the agricultural sector has come to the table and now prepared to respond and be able to, you know, support the workers as these cases may come."
On Friday, the provincial government stated that the federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Marie-Claude Bibeau and Ontario's Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs will make an announcement Tuesday about "new support to strengthen the province's agri-food sector."