40 workers at Kent Bridge, Ont. greenhouse test positive for COVID-19

A number of people at an Ontario greenhouse have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Entire workforce at Greenhill Produce tested for the disease caused by coronavirus

Justin Geertsema, operations manager at Greenhill Produce, says approximately half of his employees are currently out of work because of COVID-19. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

A number of people at an Ontario greenhouse have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Dr. David Colby, medical officer of health for Chatham-Kent, said there are 40 positive cases of COVID-19 among the workforce of Greenhill Produce near Kent Bridge.

According to Greenhill Produce operations manager Justin Geertsema, slightly less than half of his company's workforce are currently in self-isolation due to COVID-19. 

"We're not sure what the next few weeks will look like," he said. "It'll be difficult for everybody, but all we know is that we just have such an amazing team here."

Colby said the entire workforce of more than 100 employees have been tested, and so far 22 tests have come back negative. 

"We've tested everybody at the facility," said Colby. "It's not a company that's open to the public so it's not something that we are expecting that there's going to be community cases associated with."

No one who has tested positive has been hospitalized at this time. 

In Chatham-Kent, there are now about 75 cases of COVID-19, a significant jump from the 46 cases the region had seen previous to the outbreak at the facility. Colby said 40 cases are from employees at the greenhouse.

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

The majority of the workers at Greenhill Produce who have tested positive for the disease are migrant workers, but most are not new arrivals, having been in Canada four months to one year or more, said Colby.

Any migrant workers who are newly arrived or had recently gone home for vacations were isolated for two weeks upon their return.

Colby believes living arrangements may play into the spread among the workers.

"I think it's it's just the nature of the communal living arrangements that they have to live in bunk houses on site and they socialize with one another in the evenings as anybody would do those circumstances," he said.

"I believe the bunk houses are set up to facilitate social distancing but obviously something has gone amiss and now we've got work to do to manage this."

Colby said anyone who has tested positive has been isolated, along with anyone else living in their bunkhouse. 

"They're isolated so that they cannot transmit this to others," he said. "This is exactly the same strategy that we used or if it was in the community." 

The greenhouse will have to operate as best they can as the workforce has been minimized, said Colby.

Dr. David Colby, medical officer of health for Chatham-Kent, said most of the 40 staff who have tested positive are migrant workers who have been in the country for some time. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

"There certainly isn't a hazard in terms of their food products that are going out," he said. 

Geertsema said any employees told by the health unit to go into self-isolation will be paid for their time, a minimum of 40 hours per week per person. 

"We've also reached out and told them we would like to pay for any supplies and groceries, as well as any medication they would need," he said. "We're all in this together. It affects all of us, and it's just our way to say that we're here and we love you and we'll see you soon."

For his part, Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff pointed out that his community's total number of cases is still 'quite low compared to our neighbours."

Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff says he's pleased with both his community's health unit and residents for helping to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

"It's because of their being very diligent," he said, adding that he's "very pleased" with the steps taken both by the health unit and members of the community to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. 

Canniff added that if any other workplaces in Chatham-Kent experience a similar spike in confirmed cases as Greenhill Produce, "we will be testing anyone and everyone who is even close to being in contact with it."

With files from Amy Dodge and Kaitie Fraser