Leamington's mayor says Red Cross helping agri-farm sector, military assistance 'an option'

Leamington's mayor says the Red Cross will be pitching in to aid the region's farm workers as COVID-19 cases among the population rose significantly over the weekend.

Hilda MacDonald said she spoke with federal officials who are closely watching COVID-19 rates

Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald says the Red Cross is coming to the region to aid with the COVID-19 outbreaks on farms, and that calling the military in "is an option." (Vincent Robinet/CBC)

Leamington's mayor says the Red Cross will be pitching in to aid the region's farm workers as COVID-19 cases among the population rose significantly over the weekend. 

Hilda MacDonald said the global pandemic team, and other provincial health units, will be coming into the area to help.

"This has now ramped up to a much higher degree than it was even four days ago," said MacDonald. "There are many health units that have been seconded coming into place today that will take care of assessments on site." 

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the Canadian Red Cross said it is working closely with provincial and municipal authorities to identify the needs of migrant workers in Windsor-Essex.

"Discussions are ongoing," the statement reads. "As always, the Red Cross is ready to assist." 

About a dozen staff from Ontario health units were coming to the area Monday to assist with case and contact management, according to medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex, Dr. Wajid Ahmed. Each new positive case will have to be investigated to determine when and how those individuals contracted the virus, he said. 

MacDonald said hotels have been secured so that farm workers — many of whom are temporary foreign workers in the Windsor-Essex region — have a safe place to isolate.

"The hotels will also be overseen from a health perspective," she added. 

You can always ask the military to come in and set up field hospitals. It's just an option on the table,- Hilda MacDonald, mayor of Leamington

On Monday, 88 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Windsor-Essex with all but one of those cases in workers in the agri-farm industry. On Sunday, another 96 farms workers were reported to have tested positive. 

The cases originate in Leamington and Kingsville which are the last two areas in the province not entering Stage 2 of reopening due to the spread of the virus. 

"We have options available to us to keep everyone safe and to keep them in an environment that may not be ideal but certainly will will give them space and we'll give them clean and safe housing," said MacDonald. 

One of those options is bringing in military assistance. 

"You can always ask the military to come in and set up field hospitals," she said. "It's just an option on the table ... We have spoken a bit with both federal and provincial levels and that is something that is on the table."

MacDonald said exploring that option will depend on numbers over the next few days. 

The numbers of cases over the last two days were the highest counts of new cases the region has seen since the onset of the pandemic. 

Roughly 670 workers in the agri-farm industry have tested positive for COVID-19 to date. 

MacDonald said she spoke to Ontario Premier Doug Ford Sunday night about what it will take for Leamington and Kingsville to enter Stage 2 of reopening.

"The topic of conversation last night was about the numbers but I always reiterate to him and he agrees — we have to move our businesses into Stage 2," she said.

"I'm hoping we will hear one or the other — either we're moving shortly or there's compensation. We cannot keep hanging on like this."


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