Hamilton

Brantford mayor worries 119 H-N farm workers isolating in city could overwhelm hospitals

Kevin Davis says he's not convinced Haldimand-Norfolk exhausted every option available locally before transferring the workers.

Kevin Davis asks province to investigate why city is dealing with the 'consequences' of H-N outbreak

Brantford Mayor Kevin Davis is concerned his community's health-care system could be overwhelmed caring for migrant workers from Haldimand-Norfolk who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are now self-isolating at a hotel in his city. (City of Brantford)

The mayor of Brantford says his city was not given enough notice about more than 100 migrant workers from Haldimand-Norfolk being moved into COVID-19 quarantine at city hotels.

And he's concerned Brantford's health-care system could be overwhelmed if the workers now self-isolating in the city become seriously ill.

Kevin Davis says he's not convinced officials in the counties exhausted every option available to them locally before transferring the workers, who have either been exposed to COVID-19 or have tested positive.

"I feel strongly that The City of Brantford, and in particular our Emergency Operations Committee (EOC), should have been provided more notice that this action was intended prior to the affected workers being moved," the mayor wrote in a letter Tuesday.

"I will be asking the province to investigate the handling of this matter and why it was that we are dealing with the consequences of a farm outbreak outside of our community."

A spokesperson for the Brant County Health Unit (BCHU) said the mayor and EOC were notified the workers were being moved as soon as the county's medical officer of health was told Sunday evening.

There are currently 119 workers staying at two Brantford hotels, confirmed Ryan Spiteri.

The presence of COVID-19 among migrant workers has been a dreaded scenario for Haldimand and Norfolk counties, an area where nearly 4,000 workers arrive each year to help out at farms.

Those fears became very real in recent weeks, particularly at farms run by Scotlynn Group, a major producer of sweet corn, watermelon, asparagus and pumpkins in Vittoria, Ont., southwest of Simcoe, after an outbreak of the virus.

On Tuesday health officials with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit (HNHU) confirmed that 164 of 217 workers have tested positive for the virus.

Seven of the workers are in hospital, with two in intensive care.

"In an effort to hasten the recovery of the people currently residing in residences, approximately 100 individuals have been relocated to hotels," wrote spokesperson Matt Terry in a statement.

The workers will remain in their rooms and not interact with staff, he explained. The health unit is working to contact residents who may have been in contact with people who have tested positive for the virus.

Both health units have worked out a plan to monitor the the situation daily said Spiteri, noting "safety of our community is our highest priority."

He said the workers were taken directly to their rooms by HNHU staff and that employees at the hotel have been briefed on how to safely discard garbage and linens.

"All rooms and will be professionally disinfected after guests have left," said Spirteri.

He added the workers all previously underwent a 14-day isolation period when they arrived in Canada, including some at hotels, and no compliance issues were reported.

Limited local capacity to respond to surge

Davis said he was "encouraged" to hear the HNHU was working with health officials in Brant County  ensure "best practices are being strictly followed" to limit the risk of spread in his community.

However, he still outlined several concerns, noting Brantford had made sacrifices to contain the virus and has had some success.

The BCHU (which includes Brantford) reported a total of 110 COVID-19 cases in Wednesday, 99 of which are resolved. Four people have died.

Now that my be at risk, said the mayor, "especially as we have limited medical capacity in our city to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients."

Davis pointed out the situation could jeopardize Brant's ability to respond to any outbreak among local farm workers.

While Brantford takes "pride in being a good neighbour" and wants to support Haldimand-Norfolk, the mayor said he worries the area's healthcare system could be pushed to the brink.

"Let me be clear in saying that this is in no way the fault or responsibility of the labourers who come to this province and work hard to provide for themselves and their families," wrote Davis. 

"Response to a situation like this should have been considered and planned out, long before the farm worker program was reopened, and those plans should have been shared with each community in a coordinated manner."

CBC News has contacted both the HNHU and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

Here's a look at the COVID-19 situation across the surrounding area Wednesday.

Hamilton

The number of COVID-19 cases in Hamilton rose by nine, for a total of 706.

Of those cases 699 are confirmed and seven considered probable.

The vast majority — 76 per cent — of cases are resolved, while 38 people have died.

There are two ongoing institutional outbreaks in the city. The first is at Aberdeen Gardens Retirement Residence where one resident has tested positive and the second is among staff at the COVID-19 at Hamilton General Hospital, where nine people have the virus.

Haldimand-Norfolk

The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit says there are 382 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been tallied in the counties since the start of the pandemic. Thirty-one people have died of the virus, while 136 have recovered.

Niagara

The number of COVID-19 cases in Niagara jumped up by 40 Wednesday, following two days where it held steady.

The total is now 706, according to statistics shared by health officials. Only 86 of those cases are active, while 560 are resolved.

Sixty people in Niagara have died. There are also three institutional outbreaks

Halton

Six more peoples tested positive for COVID-19 in Halton Wednesday, with another three cases considered probable for a total of 723. Twenty-five people in the region have died.

Two more people have also recovered from the virus, bringing that total to 608.

In Burlington, 139 residents have had COVID-19 (123 confirmed and 16 probable), which is a rise of two compared to the beginning of the week. Seven people have died and 119 recovered.

with files from Samantha Craggs and Sofia Rodriguez

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