Lambton’s migrant farm workers will be tested for COVID-19 starting Monday

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Migrant farm workers in Sarnia-Lambton will be tested for COVID-19 starting Monday.

Bluewater Health says a mobile unit manned by people from Lambton Public Health, the hospital, Lambton paramedics and the Central Lambton Family Health Team, will go to local farms which use migrant farm labourers to provide testing. There will be someone with them who speaks Spanish.

Deacon Tony Hogervorst – Migrant Worker Ministry Specialist, with the Diocese of London says there are normally between 200 and 300 migrant workers in Lambton. This year, its far less.

The timing of the lock down of most of Canada coincided with the arrival of 60,000 migrant workers to the nation. As many of the workers were preparing their final travel plans, the federal government closed the border. It reversed the decision days later, but the damage was done. The system which smoothly brought migrant workers from Mexico, Jamaica and Haiti, ground to a halt and took many weeks to recover.

Hogervorst says right now, he believes there are about 144 migrant workers in Lambton. Normally, the deacon travels around southern Ontario providing Catholic mass for workers and he has a pretty good handle on how people are doing. This year is different.

“Because of the restrictions that we all face with COVID, we haven’t been able to visit them on the farm. We haven’t been able to hold any services. We can’t encounter them in town because most of them are… avoiding the risk of getting out of public,” he says. “There’s just no opportunity to have firsthand face-to-face contact this year.”

Hogervorst says the diocese has ramped up its online presence to help reach the people coming to Ontario to work.

Migrant farm workers have lately been a focus in the fight against COVID-19. In April, a greenhouse in Chatham-Kent had the first outbreak of the virus. Over 100 workers were ill. Public health officials believe the virus came to the greenhouse from contract workers out of Essex.

It is now the epicenter of southern Ontario’s COVID-19 cases with over 1,000 migrant workers testing positive. The provincial government has mandated mass testing of migrants, hoping to stem the tide of illness.

Lambton’s roll out of the mobile clinic is part of that effort.

Lambton Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Sudit Ranade, told reporters Friday morning, he had not heard of any migrant workers in Lambton testing positive for the virus nor has there been any outbreaks in local farm workplaces.

Hogervorst believes most farmers are keeping the migrant workers informed about COVID-19 and following the health protocols.

And he says for the farm community, COVID-19 is only one problem they face right now. Many, are having a hard time getting the labourers they need, even now.

“I think that in most cases, they’re getting the workers but on the late side,” he says.
“And of course, there’s a 14-day isolation.

“There is some concern about whether there will be enough workers for harvest.”