Essex County's 'agri-farm' sector sees growing COVID-19 cases, but should we know where?

More than 40 new cases of COVID-19 in Windsor-Essex this week were farm workers — but since the pandemic started, the health unit is not disclosing the names of the affected businesses.

43 people who work in the sector tested positive for COVID-19 this week

Forty-three people working in the agri-farm sector tested positive for COVID-19 this week. It's unclear where the workers are staffed in Windsor-Essex. (File Photo)

More than 40 new cases of COVID-19 in Windsor-Essex this week were farm workers — but since the pandemic started the health unit has not disclosed the names of the affected businesses.

The Windsor Essex County Health Unit says if there's no benefit to public health then there's no need to release the names of the facilities where workers are testing positive. 

NDP MPP Taras Natyshak agrees. He said making the data public isn't important and, instead, considers broad-based testing more critical for our communities.

But Chatham-Kent-Leamington Conservative MP Dave Epp has a different take.

"Within the balance of privacy laws, I do encourage transparency so that people do know where the situations are," said Epp. "That encourages better behaviour by all."

Dave Epp, MP for Chatham-Kent-Leamington, says transparency from all sectors regarding COVID-19 is paramount. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Epp says if long-term care homes, private or public, have to have their names made public, out of the interest of public safety, then so should other sectors with many people working out of the same facility.

"This is a contagion that is not discriminating. It is attacking any of us and we're all susceptible to it and so we all need to be proactive and careful with it."

Breach of privacy at stake

Allison McGeer is an infectious disease specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital who says health units have to walk a fine line between respecting privacy laws and maintaining public safety. 

If an Ontario health unit did disclose a private business' identity without demonstrating a clear public health interest then it could be in breach of privacy laws. 

"There are some instances where the protection of the community is sufficiently important and that you need to tell people about a particular location and, very occasionally, a particular person with a communicable disease," said McGeer.

Allison McGeer is an infectious disease specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

"But if you don't have to do that — if there's no risk to the public of not releasing the information — then public health officials are obliged not to do that."

Sylvain Charlebois, director of the agri-food analytics lab at Dalhousie University, said he doesn't see the need to identify affected businesses because there has yet to be a single case of COVID-19 linked to food transmission.

Charlebois added many smaller operations are not in a position to easily communicate the risk to the public compared to larger processing plants.

Food distribution and policy expert Sylvain Charlebois says there's no need to publicly release the names of agri-food businesses affected by COVID-19 since the virus can't be transmitted through food. (CBC News)

CBC News also reached out to Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk who did not comment on this story, saying this type of data falls under provincial jurisdiction.


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