Medical officer of health left out of COVID-19 farm worker discussion held by Windsor's mayor

During a virtual panel discussion, officials in Windsor-Essex say they need the provincial or federal government to take the reins in tackling COVID-19 outbreaks on local farms. However, a key player was left out of the talks.

News comes as region hits 2nd-highest rate of COVID-19 in Ontario, more than 800 workers positive

Medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said he was 'sad' and 'frustrated' that he was left out of a panel discussion held Friday regarding the status of COVID-19 outbreaks on area farms. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

During a virtual panel discussion, officials in Windsor-Essex say they need the provincial or federal government to take the reins in tackling COVID-19 outbreaks on local farms.

Officials say the situation requires greater co-ordination than can be provided locally. However, a key player was left out of the talks.

The comments came during a panel discussion held Friday, led by Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, joined by Leamington, Tecumseh and Kingsville mayors and the CEOs of both Windsor Regional Hospital and Erie Shores HealthCare. The region's medical officer of health, Dr. Wajid Ahmed, was not included.

"You can't get through the business in a diligent amount of time if you bring more people in ... There was certainly no slight or attempt to exclude anybody. In fact, we thought the health unit was represented by their board chair," said Dilkens. 

The Board of Health chair Gary McNamara was part of the meeting. But he was introduced as the mayor of Tecumseh and the warden of Essex County, not as the board chair, making it unclear whom he was representing.

Ahmed says no one from the health unit was invited to take part in the event.

The scheduling of the panel discussion highlighted a divide with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, as it overlapped with the daily COVID-19 briefing given by the medical officer of health.

I'm frustrated and I'm sad and I think our community can do better.- Dr. Wajid Ahmed, medical officer of health

"I'm not angry, actually. I'm frustrated and I'm sad and I think our community can do better," he said when asked about the medical officer of health's absence from the mayor's panel. 

"This is a significant problem that we are seeing in the community throughout this pandemic. It's easy to point fingers. It's easy to paint blame [on] anyone that we are seeing right now. It's just unfortunate. I think if we can combine our collective resources together, we can serve our community better, but clearly there is a disconnect. There is an issue. Unfortunately, there is no resolution to it."

The total number of COVID-19 cases among farm workers hit 804 this week, according to the health unit. Of those cases roughly 290 remain active, though Ahmed said that number will decrease soon as more individuals currently being monitored for symptoms are cleared by health care professionals. 

Dilkens says there have been instances where "the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing," and having a lead agency would help prevent that.

Mayor has been critical before

Dilkens has been critical of the health unit's handling of outbreaks at Essex County farms, particularly when it came to the region being left in the lurch when it came to Stage 2 of reopening. 

More than two weeks ago, Dilkens said the unit "should have stepped in long ago" and "mandated things to happen." 

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens says there needs to be greater coordination between the levels of government, when it comes to tackling the COVID-19 outbreak on farms. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

"I don't mind being loud and vocal and speaking up for the people in my community and the businesses here and I intend to do that each and everyday because what's happening here is just not right," said Dilkens at the time. And health unit officials, including McNamara, fired back.

"Rather than leadership, we are witnessing finger pointing and deflection to our health unit which has done nothing but work tirelessly over the last few months," said McNamara at the time.

"To just slam the health unit because it's their fault, listen you have to take a step back.... It's not because of Dr. [Wajid] Ahmed that we didn't open up [to Stage 2]."

McNamara said the pandemic calls for leadership on all levels of government to be working together. 

"It is hard to hear the comments about our health unit especially for our staff who have remained committed to our community through this pandemic," said CEO and chief nursing officer Theresa Marentette, at the time.

Marantette said the health unit has been proactive when acting on recommendations from the province, and has often taken a harder stance when it comes to public health recommendations for the area since the onset of the pandemic. 

WATCH | Watch the city's COVID-19 discussion panel here:


  • A previous version of this story did not make it clear that neither medical officer of health, Dr. Wajid Ahmed, nor any other staff of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit were invited to the meeting. Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens's assertion that Board of Health chair Gary McNamara was representing the health unit has been added to this story as a further point of clarification.
    Jul 10, 2020 5:22 PM ET


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?