British Columbia

Health authority investigates COVID-19 outbreak among temporary foreign workers in West Kelowna

Interior Health says there's been a community outbreak of COVID-19 among a group of temporary foreign workers living and working at a West Kelowna farm.

Workers had minimal contact with outside community and risk of exposure to public is low, says Interior Health

The garden centre and farm associated with Bylands Nurseries Ltd. is now closed to customers, and the staff housing is off-limits.  (Dana Kelly/CBC)

Interior Health says there's been a community outbreak of COVID-19 among a group of temporary foreign workers living and working at a West Kelowna farm.

Among the workers, 14 have tested positive for COVID-19, and 63 other migrant workers are now in isolation, with more test results pending. Twelve local workers are also in isolation.

A health order was placed on Bylands Nurseries Ltd. Friday saying the group of workers must remain in quarantine in their on-site housing until further direction.

Dr. Silvina Mema, the medical health officer with Interior Health, says the workers are not sharing one single accommodation and they have enough room to self-isolate.

"They are doing well," Mema said. "Fortunately, we haven't had any of them [be] quite sick."

The garden centre and farm is now closed to customers, and the staff housing is off-limits. 

Dr. Mema says the risk of transmission to the general public is low.

"These workers work on the field. There is no customer service that they would have been engaged in," she said. "We don't have any concerns the public has any risk of exposure."

At her daily press conference Tuesday, Dr. Bonnie Henry said the business and the workers are cooperating fully. 

"Everybody is able to be isolated in the housing — the very good housing — that is on site there," Henry said. "We want to thank both the workers themselves and the owners and operators of the nursery for being fully cooperative ... everybody is being cared for very well."

Dr. Mema says the workers came to Kelowna from Mexico between January and March 12. 

"We believe the latest group that came at the beginning of March or mid-March, there may have been someone incubating the disease when they came in and that's how this has occurred," she said.

Earlier this month the federal government eased travel restrictions and border closures to allow around 8500 migrant agricultural workers into the province in order to keep the food supply chains running. Under the rules, all workers are supposed to self-isolate for 14 days. 

CBC has reached out to the nursery owners, but have not yet received a response. 

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

With files from Tom Popyk

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