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Migrant worker COVID-19 outbreak in Norfolk County hits 164 cases
LONDON, ONT. -- The COVID-19 outbreak among migrant workers at Scotlynn Farms in Vittoria, Ont. is intensifying.
There are now at least 164 confirmed positive cases.
It's asparagus time at the operation south of Simcoe, Ont. but right now due to the outbreak, only 33 of the 216 workers at the farm are able to be in the field.
"We currently have tested all 216 workers, and we have 125 positive results, and eight negatives," says Scott Biddle, president of Scotlynn Group.
He says all of his workers from Mexico completed 14-day isolation period healthy last month. They showed no symptoms for 25 days before the first positive test Thursday.
Biddle says many of the workers are confused because of the positive cases, only a handfew are showing symptoms.
Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) has spoken with the hospitalized workers which includes two in the Intensive Care Unit.
"They are afraid and scared," says Sonia Aviles of MWAC.
"This is a deadly virus and they don't know what will happen to them. Their family members also don't know what’s going to happen to them here in Canada."
Biddle is not only worried about his staff members, but his asparagus crop.
He put out a call for help on Facebook telling the community he'd pay $25 per hour.
"There has been great response," says Biddle.
"We have confirmed 150 local employees coming to help us out tomorrow."
But a more than $10 per hour pay hike for the new staff isn't sitting well with migrant worker advocates.
"There is a lot of anger right now," says Avilies.
"We've known for many years the migrant working living conditions.
Now the employer is willing to pay double that amount to local workers to be able to pick the crops when we know the migrant workers have been working in these conditions for decades."
Concerns of transmission have spread through Norfolk County.
The workers attend the No Frills grocery store in Port Dover to shop, but only before the store opens to the public. They've tested employees at that location, and the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit (HNHU) has begun contact tracing.
"We are at very beginnings of epidemiological assessment," says Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, medical officer of health for HNHU.
"We are making effort to make sure that people live in those migrant worker residences get medical treatment," says Dr. Nesathurai.
"We are trying to execute a plan so they will have as speedy recovery as possible. We are trying to make sure they don't spread to other people, and we have advised Mexican officials and federal authorities."
Both the HNHU and MWAC have expressed the difficulty in communication because a number of these workers use Spanish as their first language. HNHU has been using a few translators to aid in the communication.
It is now a waiting game for all parties involved. The HNHU to determine the remaining test results, the farmer to get his crop out of the field, and for advocates to seek fair compensation for the workers.
"There is a policy in place that the employer has to pay when they are in quarantine but this is not the case," says Aviles.
"They have passed quarantine, and now they are sick with the virus. They don't know what is going to happen with them, and in the meantime who is going to feed their families."