Greenhouse Canada

Agri-food worker COVID-19 assessment centre opens in Windsor-Essex

Producers are encouraged to book appointments for voluntary testing.

June 11, 2020  By Greenhouse Canada

Source: Getty Images

The agri-food worker COVID-19 assessment centre opened in Windsor-Essex earlier this week.

Located in the Nature Fresh Farm Recreation Centre (formerly Sherk Centre), the COVID-19 testing centre started running on June 9. The gymnasium has been converted into a swabbing and testing clinic to offer assessment, testing and care for approximately 8,000 agri-food workers in the area. Workers are registered, swabbed and information is given on the Agrifood Worker Health Aid Card.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of our farm employees, be they international or domestic,” says Joe Sbrocchi, General Manager, Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG). “We urge our members to undertake all steps to protect this essential workforce including making testing available to those who are interested.”


Testing facility to improve access for agri-food workers

The facility is an extension of the assessment centre at Erie Shores HealthCare (ESHC). According to ESHC, the Windsor-Essex Health Unit will follow up with all individuals who test positive. Asymptomatic workers who are voluntarily tested do not need to isolate while waiting for results.

“This initiative is creating equitable access to testing [for] workers in the agrifood sector who may have barriers to being tested in our other Assessment Centre, which may not be easy to access for those without transportation or who are working during the day,”saysDr. Ross Moncur, Interim CEO and Chief of Staff for Erie Shores HealthCare.

Highline Mushrooms was the first producer to use the facility and sent over 100 workers on a voluntary basis to be tested and assessed on Tuesday morning. Several buses transported agri-food workers to the site and were met by Essex County medical professionals.

As to why on-site visits are not being conducted, ESHC says the resources and infrastructure are not in place to support on-site testing due to the high number of farms and greenhouses in the region. “In addition, the time required to set up and take down between farms and greenhouses [is] time sensitive and not feasible for timely access.”

Removing stigmas, quelling concerns

“We urge our members to discuss the benefits of testing with their workforce and to recognize there will be fears and stigma associated with testing and positive test results,” says OGVG in a release. “We urge growers, health agencies and government at large to work together to develop culturally appropriate communication materials, in a variety of languages, that help to quell these fears and dispel myths associated with testing and positive outcomes. This is especially important for vulnerable populations.”

OGVG also urges their members to adhere to strict workplace policies, including physical physical distancing where possible, use of physical barriers, increased sanitation and PPE use, as well as operational changes, such as staggered shifts, amenity scheduling and additional on-farm services.

“Growers and employees alike should be reminded that testing is only one part of an effective prevention and control strategy,” says Dr. Justine Taylor of OGVG. For employers faced with differing opinions on voluntary testing among their employees, they are asked to “re-assure their workforce that all steps are being taken to protect their safety and that all protocols remain in place regardless of the testing status of any individuals.”

The clinic runs from 9am to 4pm. Employers are asked to call ESHC Human Resources at 519.326.2373 ext. 4123 to book an appointment.

Below are answers from ESHC on the testing process and bus transport.

What are the logistics?

  • Farms within Essex County work with Erie Shores HealthCare to be pre-assigned a time to arrive at the complex by buses.
  • They arrive with their workers at the Southwest corner entrance of the Complex gymnasium
  • Enter to the right and are registered at one of the 5 tables along the South wall
  • Once completed registration, they will continue to one of the 10 swabbing tables on the East and North walls
  • Before they leave, they check in at the Northwest table to ensure they have their Migrant worker cards with them. If not they will gather the information needed.
  • If at any time there is a worker that appears to need additional care, there will be an assessment table set up along the West wall.
  • Exit the Northwest doors (out by the flag poles) and proceed back to their farms.

Why use a bus to transport? Is that safe?

In keeping with Public Health’s guidance on public transportation, several safety mechanisms have been put in place:

  • All riders will wear masks
  • Every other seat is left empty
  • Hand sanitizer is used when getting on and off the bus
  • Masks and shields are worn by the drivers
  • Buses are sanitized after every route
  • How long will workers be away for testing?
  • The test takes 10 to 20 minutes from start to finish

The Assessment Centre is a regional collaboration between Erie Shores HealthCare, Essex Windsor EMS, the Municipality of Leamington, Windsor Regional Hospital, Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, Windsor Essex Community Health Centre, Home and Community Care ESC/Ontario Health West Region, Canadian Mental Health Association Windsor-Essex and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Windsor Essex County Health Unit.

More details can be found here

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