Windsor

4 migrant workers at Kingsville mushroom farm have contracted COVID-19

A total of four migrant workers at the Highline Mushrooms farm in Kingsville, Ont. have contracted COVID-19, representing half of the eight greenhouse or farm employees across Windsor-Essex who have tested positive for coronavirus. 

Two employees have recovered so far

The four employees at Highline Mushrooms who contracted COVID-19 represent half of the eight greenhouse or farm workers across Windsor-Essex who have tested positive for coronavirus. (Submitted by Highline Mushrooms)

A total of four migrant workers at the Highline Mushrooms farm in Kingsville, Ont. have contracted COVID-19, representing half of the eight greenhouse or farm employees across Windsor-Essex who have tested positive for coronavirus.

Aaron Hamer, president of Highline Mushrooms, said that a worker began showing symptoms in late March, adding that the employee was immediately isolated. 

A few days later, another worker tested positive, followed by two of his roommates. 

None of the employees were hospitalized, and two of the four workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 have recovered, according to Hamer. 

Aaron Hamer, president of Highline Mushrooms, says he's proud of the steps his company has taken to limit the spread of COVID-19. (Submitted by Highline Mushrooms)

Dr. Wajid Ahmed, medical officer of health with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU), said his organization hasn't been able to trace where the initial two migrant workers contracted coronavirus.

Since the employees haven't left Canada since 2019, Ahmed presumed that the workers may have contracted coronavirus within the community. 

"If they're outside and interacting with the rest of the community members or going to stores and are not following any of these measures, they are putting themselves at risk and that way we can't even track how it entered the farm," Ahmed said. 

Highline Mushrooms has taken 'extremely aggressive proactive measures,' says president

According to Hamer, his company began taking COVID-19 seriously in mid-March, after he learned that Sophie Grégoire Trudeau — wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — had contracted coronavirus.

Hamer said Highline Mushrooms almost immediately implemented protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

A Highline Mushrooms employee has their temperature checked before entering the workfloor. (Submitted by Highline Mushrooms)

In addition to following physical distancing guidelines, Hamer said the company has stopped all workers from travelling between farms; created more shifts so fewer workers are on-site; and constructed plexiglass dividers in the workplace and lunchroom. 

And while there are 44 houses in Essex for Highline Mushrooms' workers — where an average of six people stay per house — Hamer said no migrant workers live in bunker-style accommodations. 

In addition to following physical distancing guidelines, Highline Mushrooms has also set up barriers to separate employees on the job. (Submitted by Highline Mushrooms)

As a result of these protocols, Hamer said he's proud to know that employees who did come to work with COVID-19 weren't able to transmit the illness to others near them.

"I think that's a testament to the fact that we started early, that our associates know that they have to take it seriously," He said. 

Health unit not sure farms would be able to respond in the event of major outbreak

Despite the measures taken to protect workers at Highline Mushrooms, Ahmed said he isn't confident that such facilities would be able to handle major outbreaks should they occur. 

"It has been an issue for us because we have investigated a number of TB cases there, and we have investigated chicken pox outbreak," he said. 

Windsor-Essex County Health Unit medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed says he's not certain that greenhouses and other such facilities will be able to mitigate the spread of major outbreaks. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

And though rooming houses aren't illegal, Ahmed said such spaces can easily spread illnesses. 

Ahmed said two facilities — including Highline Mushrooms — have seen cases of employees with coronavirus. 

Chatham-Kent greenhouse reported more than 40 COVID-19 cases earlier this week

Earlier this week, Chatham-Kent Public Health medical officer of health Dr. David Colby confirmed more than 40 workers at Greenhill Produce near Kent Bridge had tested positive for COVID-19. 

As of Wednesday, April 29, 45 migrant workers and two local workers at Greenhill Produce have tested positive. 

Greenhill Produce, a greenhouse operation near Kent Bridge, Ont., is currently under a COVID-19 pandemic. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

Chatham-Kent Public Health was previously waiting on 24 tests for local workers and 13 tests for migrant workers. 

The facility's workforce of more than 250 employees have all been tested for COVID-19. 

With files from Amy Dodge

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