TORONTO — Most of the region of Windsor-Essex will be allowed to move into Stage 2 of the province’s reopening plan after originally being held back due to COVID-19 farm outbreaks, Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday.
The only exceptions will be the communities of Leamington and Kingsville, which have seen large numbers of cases among migrant workers.
Ford said he has a plan to address the situation on farms, while also allowing COVID-19 positive but asymptomatic workers to continue on the job, with safety protocols in place.
“This is one of (farmers’) busiest times of the year,” Ford said. “They need the extra help and unlike other professions, most of it is outdoors and isolated.”
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said testing of migrant workers found a cluster of asymptomatic positive people. Dr. David Williams is recommending that such workers can continue working away from (non-infected) others, as well as sleeping away from their coworkers.
The province is increasing inspections of farms this week, including the migrant workers’ living conditions — in partnership with the federal government, as Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said the province doesn’t have jurisdiction over the bunkhouses.
Ford said his plan to control farm outbreaks includes expanding testing and reassuring workers they won’t face negative consequences if they test positive.
“No one will lose their job if you have COVID-19,” he said. “No one will be sent home if you have COVID-19 and if you test positive for COVID-19 and you need to self-isolate for 14 days, you will be eligible for (workplace safety and insurance benefits).”
Workers who have been here previously and have a social insurance number may also be eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, Ford said.
Windsor’s mayor said this week that the high number of COVID-19 cases on farms in Essex County was holding back the entire region, and the local economy could not face another week of delay in reopening.
Meanwhile, Toronto and Peel moved into Stage 2 Wednesday, with hair stylists, pools and restaurant patios allowed to resume operations.
Toronto Mayor John Tory stopped by a pub in the Yorkville neighbourhood Wednesday to celebrate what he called “the start of patio season,” posting photos of himself on Twitter talking to patrons while wearing a mask.
In Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood, Jen Abbotts was among a handful of people having lunch on a streetside patio at the Factory Girl restaurant.
She said she hadn’t planned on going out for a meal immediately when patio service resumed, but had an urge to order her favourite pasta dish from the restaurant.
“I’ve been craving it for four months, so I think it’s time to get it,” she said.
Still, she said, it feels strange to be at a restaurant for the first time since the pandemic began.
George Markakos, who owns the restaurant, said it’s good to move beyond strictly takeout orders, but business is still severely limited, with only 26 of the usual 175 seats available.
“This is nowhere near enough to pay the bills let alone make some money,” he said, adding the business is still depending largely on government subsidies.
Ontario reported 163 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, and 12 more deaths. That brings the province to a total of 34,016 cases, including 2,631 deaths and 29,336 resolved cases.
That’s 229 more resolved cases than the previous day, resuming a trend Ontario has seen over a couple of weeks of resolved cases growing more quickly than active ones, except for Tuesday.
The number of people in hospital with COVID-19, and those in intensive care and on ventilators all dropped, with the latter two figures falling to their lowest levels since the province started publicly reporting them at the beginning of April.
Coronavirus: Ontario to expand COVID-19 testing for farm workers in Windsor-Essex
Ontario extended its state of emergency today to July 15, which Ford has said is hopefully the last extension.
Many of the emergency orders made under the state of emergency are expected to continue even after July 15, including bans on large gatherings.
After the state of emergency expires, the province won’t be able to make new emergency orders, amend them, or re-enact old ones, but existing ones can be extended.
Local medical officers of health will still have certain powers under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, which is what some have used to require masks in commercial establishments.
— With files from Salmaan Farooqui
© 2020 The Canadian Press