Health unit rescinds letter requiring TFW pause

Workers harvest grapes at a farm. File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / gina_sanders.

Windsor-Essex employers will soon be able to once again proceed with the arrival of temporary foreign workers (TFW).

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit rescinded on Friday night a letter of instruction issued on Tuesday, requiring a three-week pause in bringing TFWs into the area to work on farms and in greenhouses. The pause was made to address a rise in COVID-19 cases among these workers.

“Throughout the week, the health unit has worked with all levels of government to formulate a resolution to this issue,” read a media release from the health unit. “With the concerted efforts of local leaders in the healthcare, housing, and social service community, the region collectively was able to establish the level of support necessary to meet isolation requirements for workers who are sick or who have been exposed.”

The announcement came the same day that the City of Windsor was expected to sign documents allowing for the procurement of 300 hotel rooms to isolate TFWs who have tested positive for the virus.

On Tuesday, Acting Medical Officer of Health Doctor Shanker Nesathurai had called the outbreaks on farms a “public health emergency”. At the time, at least 275 TFWs on eight farms were ill.

“We were at zero people in the self-isolation residence just last week, and we saturated the self-isolation residence within days,” said Nesathurai.

The City of Windsor is also awaiting word on a proposed $17.8-million in funding to keep the Isolation and Recovery Centre (IRC) open past March, when the current funding runs out.

Reaction to the health unit’s decision to rescind the letter of instruction has been positive from elected officials, including Chatham-Kent-Leamington MP Dave Epp.

“Multi-jurisdictional pandemic arrangements are never easy, especially with such an evolving virus as COVID which requires good science, cooperation, and common sense, so I am pleased that we were able to achieve this goal today,” said Epp in a statement Friday night. “While it is unfortunate that it had to get to this stage, it is the hope of many that we will learn and apply these lessons in a proactive and cooperative manner going forward.  I remain committed to that ongoing approach.”