Officials with the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) and Southwestern Public Health (SWPH) say coronavirus testing is underway at a St. Thomas-area farm after at least eight temporary foreign workers tested positive for the virus this week.
An outbreak was declared on Thursday at Ontario Plants Propagation, a greenhouse operation along John Wise Line, days after the MLHU said it first became aware of a case Monday night involving a worker at the farm, health officials said on Friday.
That initial case led to 16 of the worker’s close contacts being tested on Tuesday, with seven of the tests coming back positive. As those workers live in London, the seven are included in the tally of new cases that was reported on Friday by MLHU.
According to the health unit, another 40 workers living at the same complex as the first case were tested on Wednesday at London’s Carling Heights Assessment Centre.
The remaining workers in the group, meanwhile, were to be tested on Friday at Ontario Plants Propagation. Test results for all were expected over the coming days.
“The operator of this farm has been tremendously co-operative with us, and we believe that this outbreak is now contained,” said Dr. Alex Summers, associate medical officer of health with the MLHU, during Friday’s coronavirus media briefing.
“Of course, we will be monitoring that very closely over the next couple of weeks.”
Summers said the workers had arrived primarily from Guatemala and Jamaica, and that as far as the health unit was aware, all had quarantined for 14 days upon arriving in Ontario.
The workers are currently in self-isolation, and none have been admitted to hospital.
Health officials are still working to find the source of the outbreak, but Summers said it was believed they had been in Canada long enough that they either contracted it here, or “one of the other workers may have had mild symptoms that weren’t identified and transmitted it subsequently to their colleagues.”
“We believe that we have readily identified all close contacts and any additional cases,” Summers said. “Of course, we continue to watch for further results. But those tests have been done.”
Health officials stressed there was no risk to the public from the products grown on the farm, and that they didn’t believe there had been any close exposure or close contact outside of the migrant farmworker community.
“The living conditions for these migrant farmworkers were certainly a congregate living setting, but not exceptionally crowded, nor of specific concern for us,” Summers said.
“They were people living together and that would have resulted in the transmission.”
COVID-19 cases have also been reported at other southwestern Ontario farms during the pandemic.
Fifty-one workers, local and foreign, at Greenhill Produce in Kent Bridge, Ont., tested positive for the coronavirus last month.
In Windsor-Essex, at least 16 workers from three farms in the region had tested positive for the virus as of early this month, the region’s health unit said.
In March, four workers tested positive at Highline Mushrooms in Kingsville, Ont.
Approximately 20,000 migrant workers come to the Ontario each year to work on farms and in greenhouses.
— With files from Shawn Jeffords of The Canadian Press
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