Despite vocal encouragement from political leaders and health officials both locally and provincially, CBC News has learned a small fraction of agriculture operations in Essex County have participated in on-site COVID-19 testing during the pandemic through Ontario Health.
As of July 6, 19 farms have completed on-site testing, according to Ontario Health — that number remains the same two weeks later. despite the fact that five more farms were scheduled to complete on-site testing.
Ontario Health said it was unable to accommodate an interview, but sent the following statement to CBC News:
“We know that on-site testing is only part of this very complex picture, and for this reason, we have altered our approach in order to better accommodate other factors unique to this high-risk population. Testing is focused on the best approach in light of the situation, while working in partnership with the local public health unit and others to support testing of agricultural workers in the region.”
With more than 8,000 migrant farm workers in the region, about “2,800 tests have been conducted to date in Windsor-Essex, and approximately 1,800 of these have been on-site at 19 farms across the area,” Ontario Health told CBC News.
In addition to on-site testing, workers can also get tested at assessment centres and through public health contact tracing.
Leamington, Ont. resident Joan Grey, who is also the founder of a migrant worker not-for-profit called Unity Hopeful and who’s been helping migrant workers in Essex County for more than nine years, said she can’t seem to understand why so few farms are providing on-site COVID-19 testing.
“That is mind blowing. That is ridiculous. … I don’t know what’s going on there,” she said. “I know personally that the farm workers want to be tested because I speak to them on a daily basis.”
Testing is voluntary, but Grey said mandatory testing should be the path forward.
About a month ago, Premier Doug Ford appeared frustrated with the lack of testing among farm workers.
“I’ll go to the extreme,” he said. “I’ll start pulling out every tool at my disposal to make sure this gets done.”
There were no firm promises on how that is being done on Tuesday’s daily update.
“It’s all hands on deck. It’s the same situation. There’s a group of migrant workers who have spiked things up a little bit, but we’re working with the farmers. We’re going to continue testing on as many farms as possible.”
The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers told CBC News 43 of its 118 members participated in either on-site testing or conducted testing at the assessment centre, but it’s unclear when that took place or why the others haven’t done it.
For Grey, she’s unsure who is to blame for how the situation with migrant workers has gotten to this point.
“Somebody is not doing their job. I don’t know who it is, but somebody is not doing their job,” she said.
“These workers should have been taken care of. They’re not being taken care of in the way they should.”