Leamington, Kingsville cleared for Stage 2 reopening tomorrow
Ontario Premier Doug Ford made the announcement Monday during a daily briefing
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has cleared the last region in the province for reopening.
Ford announced Monday that Leamington and Kingsville will be granted permission to move ahead into Stage 2 of reopening on Tuesday, July 7.
"Most importantly out of anyone I want to sincerely thank the people of Leamington and Kingsville for being as patient as you have been," Ford said to reporters.
Ford thanked the farmers and workers "for their cooperation" over the weekend.
"Outbreaks in the community have been contained, community transmission is low, and we have the resources for testing and contact tracing," he said. "I'm coming down to pay you folks a visit. I'm in desperate need of a haircut. I'm going to be down there, let's pick a barber somewhere in Leamington or Kingsville. I just can't wait to go down and thank the people personally."
The regions were the last two in the province to remain in Stage 1 due to high rates of COVID-19, primarily among migrant farm workers in the area.
WATCH | Ontario Premier Doug Ford says Kingsville and Leamington to enter Stage 2:
"I was absolutely thrilled," Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald said Monday in reaction to the premier's announcement. "This was really really good news."
MacDonald said she personally invited the premier for a haircut at a local barbershop and lunch.
"This would be such a multifaceted opportunity if [Ford] came to Leamington, not only a haircut and lunch but also learning something new about what we're looking to do in the industry," she said, adding that she'd like to show him their new migrant worker housing initiative.
The announcement comes just days after the premier confirmed Ontario's emergency management team had been deployed to the region.
Trevor Loop, co-owner of Jack's Gastropub in Kingsville, said he was relieved when he first heard the news and is now working on re-opening his patio for the remainder of the season.
"We missed half the summer already," he said. "Stage 2 is only going to give us an opportunity to fight back now and to fight to save our businesses."
He said being in Stage 1 has been "a burden" and "the toughest thing" he's had to deal with as a business owner, and is looking forward to opening his patio on Thursday.
Another Kingsville business owner, Heather Brown of The Main Grill and Ale House, said the community has been so supportive since the moment they had to close back in March.
"[They] just made sure that we were okay," she said, "It's just been a really emotional 112 days."
She said she plans to open up her patio on Wednesday, adding that she's been receiving phone calls all day from people asking if her restaurant was open yet.
While both Brown and Loop say they're happy with the news, they're pushing hard to move to Stage 3 as quickly as possible so more businesses can benefit from the reopening.
Ford said Friday the team would be working with members of the Canadian Red Cross already in the area, as well as Public Health Ontario, to address growing concerns about COVID-19 cases among agri-farm workers.
There have been roughly 700 COVID-19 cases among farm workers in Essex County, and two temporary foreign workers from Mexico died in the region after testing positive for the disease.
MacDonald said 40 large farms, out of about 170, in the region have undergone testing and she has heard back from a number of them that have tested negative so Nature Fresh Farms might be an "anomaly."
For the time being, as the region reopens, MacDonald said to "keep everyone safe" they are going to try and have those in the agriculture industry minimally interact with the rest of the community.
"We want to get...to the new normal where we see our workers coming to town and shopping and so on," she said. "But just right now, to keep everybody safe, we need to [keep them isolated]."
In mid-June, tomato and bean processor Sun-Brite Foods in Kingsville said they were providing extra accommodations to ensure workers could stay on-site.
Lou Macera, manager of corporate human resources with Sun-Brite Foods, Unico and Primo, had described it as being "basically like a hotel."
He said all their food, shopping and banking is being catered.
With files from Tahmina Aziz