I almost feel like Leamington Ontario is my second hometown because I have been there so often. My husband Dave was born and raised in Leamington and we have returned to the area annually since our marriage in 1973. Many years we’ve visited more than once.
Last weekend when we chatted with family in Leamington I was surprised to learn that while many other places in Ontario are reopening businesses and services Leamington and neighbouring Kingsville remain closed because of their high number of COVID 19 cases. My sister-in-law suggested I read an article in The Windsor Star to help me understand why there is such a concentration of cases in the Leamington area.
According to the news story, most of the COVID cases in the area are in the migrant worker community, where the crowded and unsanitary living quarters provided by some employers has facilitated the spread of COVID-19. The more than 8000 migrant workers in the Leamington area from Central America and Jamaica say another factor is that not all employers provide personal protective equipment for their employees.
On some farms and in some greenhouses migrants come to work even if they are sick or should be in quarantine because missing work means less money to send to their families or even worse job loss and deportation. If workers do test positive but have no symptoms they are encouraged to keep working because their labour is essential. The CBC says some 2000 of the workers in the Leamington area are undocumented and suggests their employers’ have not been eager to open their farms to government testers who want to evaluate the extent of virus transmission. The July 2 news story reported 175 new cases found on just one farm.
Although the majority of the employers in the area run ethical operations and treat their workers well a few bad apples are causing what federal health minister Patty Hajdu calls a crisis.
Hopefully, protocols will be soon be established to keep the migrant workers safe and the local year-round residents of the community safe as well. Local businessman Peter Quiring says this is a time for people to work together so that the important contribution the area farms make to providing food for Canadians can continue.
We have many family members and friends in the Leamington area and their health and future well- being depends on finding a successful way to deal with the COVID outbreak. We hope solutions can be found quickly.