Windsor mayor calls on province to help test more migrant farm workers for COVID-19

Public officials are putting focus on testing migrant farm workers in Windsor-Essex as most COVID-19 cases in the region are in the agricultural sector.  

Mayor Drew Dilkens asked the Ontario premier for 'stronger intervention'

Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens says the migrant worker situation is complex and requires more intervention from the province. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens asked Ontario Premier Doug Ford for "stronger intervention" from the province when it comes to testing migrant workers, as the agricultural sector makes up the most COVID-19 cases in the region. 

The city's mayor said he spoke with the premier and the Minister of Agriculture over the weekend about the issue. 

"Current reports regarding testing in the region indicate that we can and must do more to test the full and complete population of migrant workers," Dilkens said in a media statement. 

"During my conversations this weekend, I expressed my desire for stronger intervention from the province of Ontario to help test and isolate the temporary foreign workers in our region."

Fifty-eight new cases of COVID-19 in Windsor-Essex were reported over the weekend, with 50 of those cases in the agriculture sector. 

The province announced Monday that Windsor-Essex will not be moving into the second stage of reopening as these numbers are considered too high.

Essex NDP MPP Taras Natyshak is calling the situation a crisis, but something that was predictable and possibly preventable.

Fifty-eight new cases of COVID-19 in WIndsor-Essex were reported over the weekend, with 50 of those cases coming from the agricultural sector. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"What I do know is that if the assessment centre model isn't working, we need to take a look at what the barriers are to those migrant workers," he said.

About 700 of the 8,000 migrant workers in Windsor-Essex were tested last week at Erie Shores HealthCare's COVID-19 assessment centre, which has the capacity to conduct up to 600 tests a day.

That's less than 10 per cent of the total number of workers getting tested.

'Big challenge' to test 8,000 workers

Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman said he wants to see expanded COVID-19 testing in the farming sector.

"Obviously there's a big challenge in making sure that ... 8,000 thousand people out there are all aware of their ability to get tested and their need to get tested," he said.

"We want to make sure that they all are individually given a choice as to whether they want to be tested and hopefully, they all would be to protect themselves and to protect the people they're working with."

A COVID-19 assessment centre for migrant workers is opening its doors, with a goal of testing 500 to 600 workers per day. (Vince Robinet/CBC)

He said the system is set up for assessment centres, not mass on-farm testing.

He hopes the current method of testing will be successful or they may have to look at other means to boost testing in the agriculture sector.

While Windsor-Essex medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said he's not in the position to make testing mandatory, Dilkens is pushing for more support from the province. 

Dilkens calls the situation complex and said he doesn't want Windsor to stay closed for something happening in a specific sector.

The assessment centre at Leamington's Erie Shores Healthcare reopens Tuesday and Wednesday.

With files from Jason Viau


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