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Muskoka Post Staff
Today the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) issued an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA) to employers of farmworkers in Simcoe Muskoka to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission on farms.
“Although public health guidelines have been provided to protect migrant farm workers, the spread of COVID-19 in this group in our region and Ontario tells us that they continue to be vulnerable due to the nature of their working and living conditions,” said Dr. Colin Lee, SMDHU’s associate medical officer of health.
“Temporary migrant and local farm workers are essential workers and vital to our farming industry and food system, and we need to protect them and the broader community from COVID-19 transmission. The Order will strengthen our resolve and efforts to prevent and control current and future outbreaks.”
Issuing of a local Section 22 Class Order under the HPPA was strongly recommended to Medical Officers of Health by Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, earlier this week in response to the increasing number of cases of COVID-19, and the ongoing challenge of managing outbreaks on farms.Under a Section 22, a medical officer of health (MOH) may make an Order to a class of persons who reside in or are present in the geographic area served by the health unit to take, or to refrain from taking, action specified in the Order in respect to a communicable disease.
The Section 22 Class Order requires all owners and operators of farms in the region who employ farm workers, including temporary foreign workers (TFW), local workers and temporary help agency workers, to take actions to protect their labour force. These include:
- Conduct daily (at a minimum) active screening of all employees (permanent, temporary or contract) by asking a standard set of health questions at the start of their shifts and ensuring that anyone failing a COVID-19 screen is excluded from work and recommended for testing;
- Ensure that all employees, current or future, are exclusively working within one workplace. Individuals who are employed at more than one facility must immediately limit this to one premise.
- Ensure employees working on farms are assigned to the same team/work pod that is separated from other individuals and teams;
- Ensure that accurate and updated contact information for all employees is available to SMDHU within 24 hours of being asked to support COVID-19 case management and contact tracing requirements;
- Ensure that all individuals who are under health unit supervision for case and contact management have ongoing access to communication devices (cellular phone or landline) and this contact information is made available to SMDHU at all times.
The Order also requires farms to follow all legislative requirements to protect worker health and safety, including directions and guidance provided by SMDHU, provincial and federal requirements pertaining to COVID-19 and the terms of the Section 22 Class Order.