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5 Ontario regions tightening restrictions, Peel and Toronto to remain in lockdown – CBC.ca

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Ontario is tightening public health restrictions in five regions as hospitals say they are inundated with COVID-19 patients. 

Those regions include Hamilton, which will move to the grey or “lockdown” level, joining Peel Region and Toronto, Premier Doug Ford’s government said late Friday afternoon.

Elsewhere, Brant County and Niagara Region move into the red or “control” zone, the public health unit for Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington moves into the orange or “restrict” zone, and Timiskaming moves into yellow or “protect.” The restrictions take effect Monday and will remain in place until Jan. 4.

The province says Hamilton’s rate of new COVID-19 cases has increased by about 25 per cent, to 103.3 cases per 100,000 people and the number of hospitalizations in the region has more than doubled in the last two weeks.

The province also confirmed the current lockdowns in Toronto and Peel Region will remain in place past Monday, when they were set to expire.

“The trends we are seeing here in Ontario are very, very concerning,” Ford told reporters before heading into an emergency meeting with his chief medical officer of health and other officials.

The public health unit for the Sudbury area was meanwhile moved down a level to green or “prevent” in the province’s colour-coded system of public health measures. 

WATCH | Ford confirms Toronto, Peel Region lockdowns will continue:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he’ll hold an emergency meeting with CEOs of hospitals this weekend before deciding how to tackle the rising number of coronavirus cases straining the province’s health-care system. 1:25

Earlier Friday, CBC News learned that Ford’s government was considering a lockdown across southern Ontario from Boxing Day until Jan. 11

Ford said earlier on Friday that the government would announce its next steps on Monday, after he meets with hospital officials and cabinet over the weekend.

Multiple sources in and outside government who are aware of the proposal for southern Ontario say that the lockdown plan is similar to what will take effect in Quebec after Christmas Day. The plan is to be put to a meeting of Ford’s cabinet Friday afternoon.

Quebec is closing all non-essential businesses and issuing a mandatory work-from-home order for nearly all office employees until Jan. 11 and asking all schools to go online-only for the first week that classes resume in the new year. 

Northern Ontario would be excluded from all the lockdown measures, say the sources, who have knowledge of the plans and spoke to CBC News on condition they not be named.

The precise closures and restrictions in the widespread lockdown have yet to be decided, the sources say. However, one government source says in-person classes at schools would not resume in the areas under lockdown until Jan. 11. 

Another source aware of the proposal described it as a modified version of Stage 1, the restrictions that existed across Ontario immediately after the first lockdown was lifted earlier this year. That source also says the government is considering imposing stricter measures in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas than in the rest of the lockdown zone.

‘Whatever is needed’

There’s already some pushback to the possible lockdown.

Durham Region chair John Henry is calling on the province to consider keeping it in the less strict red zone, rather than in a full lockdown, saying the region wasn’t consulted on any potential changes.

Durham, just east of Toronto, saw 89 new cases on Friday, based on provincial data.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie called on the Ford government Thursday to lock down the Toronto and Hamilton area on Monday to drive down daily case counts.

Crombie said, while she acknowledges the disappointment of remaining in lockdown during the holiday season, the situation at hospitals in Peel Region, of which Mississauga is a part, remains dire and stricter measures are required. 

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he supports the idea of a lockdown in the city’s area, noting that right now, it’s still easy for people to travel from Toronto to less-affected areas, especially during the holiday season.

Specifics not yet decided

A senior government official, however, told CBC News that the sources are getting ahead of themselves. 

The official said the duration of any lockdown is yet to be decided and said it is not certain that in-person classes at schools would be cancelled in the lockdown areas.  

Before his cabinet meets, Ford is set to sit down with top hospital officials for an emergency meeting as the rising number of COVID-19 cases puts increasing strain on the health-care system in the province.

The meeting comes as public health officials reported 2,290 more cases of the illness Friday morning and 68,246 coronavirus tests completed. It is the fourth day with more than 2,000 new cases in the province. Another 40 deaths of people with the illness were also reported.

In a tweet, Ford said the discussion with hospital leaders will focus on “next steps to break the concerning trends in cases and hospitals in our province.”

As he has often repeated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Ford said “everything is on the table when it comes to protecting the health of Ontarians.”

WATCH | Here’s what Ford said about a potential further lockdown on Thursday:

There are many things to consider before Ontario will tighten its lockdown of the province to slow the spread of the coronavirus, said Premier Doug Ford. But he said he will not make a ‘snap’ judgment about which course to take. 1:34

OHA calls for ‘stricter’ public health measures

In a statement released Friday, the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) said it is hopeful the government will heed the advice of hospitals during this time.

The association said its members were “grateful” that Ford, along with Health Minister Christine Elliott and the province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams “were able to hear firsthand, from hospital leaders from across the province, about the extremely serious situation many organizations are facing and the severe pressures they are under.”

The OHA is calling on the Ford government for “urgent implementation of stricter and more robustly enforced public health measures,” and also asking municipal leaders to get on board to support the action.

“On the cusp of the holiday season, should stricter measures not be put in place, and should the public ignore public health advice and choose to gather over the holiday season, the consequences risk overwhelming Ontario’s hospitals,” the statement says.

“Ultimately, every health care system has its breaking point.”

LISTEN | ‘This could be your family,’ Toronto doctor warns:

Metro Morning7:00‘This could be your family:’ Dr. Michael Warner on losing 5 isolated, COVID-19 patients this week

There are more COVID-19 patients in intensive care units right now than at any other point in the pandemic. That’s led the Ontario Hospitals Association to call on the Premier to tighten restrictions and impose harsher lockdowns. 86 more people died from COVID-19 this week and five of them were being treated at the Michael Garron hospital ICU where Dr. Michael Warner works. He reflects on the state of COVID-19 in Ontario. 7:00

7-day average reaches new high

The new cases reported Friday include 691 in Toronto, 361 in Peel Region, 296 in York Region, 207 in Windsor-Essex and 126 in Hamilton.

The other public health units that saw double-digit increases are:

  • Durham Region: 89
  • Waterloo Region: 84
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 61
  • Halton Region: 57
  • Ottawa: 52
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 51
  • Niagara Region: 47
  • Southwestern: 37
  • Middlesex-London: 30
  • Eastern Ontario: 16
  • Leeds, Grenville & Lanark: 13
  • Thunder Bay: 11

(Note: All of the figures used for new cases in this story are found on the Ontario Health Ministry’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its daily epidemiologic summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit because local units report figures at different times.)

Combined, the additional cases push the seven-day average of new daily cases to 2,089.

Close to 18,000 active cases across province

The Ministry of Education also reported 133 new cases that are school-related: 111 students and 22 staff members. Around 957 of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly funded schools, or about 19.8 per cent, have at least one case of COVID-19 while 22 schools are currently closed because of the illness.

There are now 17,742 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 throughout the province, the most at any point during the pandemic.

They come as Ontario’s network of labs processed 68,246 test samples for the novel coronavirus and reported a test positivity rate of 3.9 per cent. There are another 81,235 tests in the queue waiting to be completed.

The 40 additional deaths of people with COVID-19 increases the official toll to 4,098.

17 more vaccination sites announced

Also this morning, the provincial government announced that doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be shipped to 17 additional hospital sites over the next two weeks.

The distribution is part of the initial phase of Ontario’s immunization campaign, which is focused primarily on front-line health-care workers and essential caregivers who work in congregate settings for seniors, such as long-term care homes.

The province expects about 90,000 total doses of the vaccine to arrive before the end of the year.

Speaking to CBC News yesterday, retired general Rick Hillier, the head of Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force, said that about 2,000 people have received their first dose of the vaccine this week. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses, about 21 days apart.

In addition to the University Health Network in Toronto and The Ottawa Hospital, vaccine doses will be available at:

  • Windsor Regional Hospital.
  • London Health Sciences Centre.
  • Grand River Hospital.
  • Halton Healthcare.
  • Hamilton Health Sciences.
  • William Osler Health System.
  • Trillium Health Partners.
  • Southlake Regional Health Centre.
  • Mackenzie Health.
  • Humber River Hospital.
  • Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
  • Toronto East Health Network.
  • Unity Health Toronto.
  • Scarborough Health Network.
  • Lakeridge Health.
  • Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre.
  • Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

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'It wasn't called COVID at the time:' One year since Canada's first COVID-19 case – CTV News

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TORONTO —
The patient, when he came into the hospital ER with what seemed to be mild pneumonia, wasn’t that sick and might otherwise have been sent home.

Except the man had just returned from China, where a new viral disease was spreading like a brush fire. His chest X-rays were also unusual.

“We’d never seen a case like this before,” says Dr. Jerome Leis. “I’d never seen an X-ray quite like that one.”

Newsletter sign-up: Get The COVID-19 Brief sent to your inbox

It was the evening of Jan. 23, 2020, when the team at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre decided to admit the 56-year-old patient. That same day, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, told the country:

“The risk of an outbreak in Canada remains low,” Tam said in a refrain she and other officials would repeat for weeks on end.

Less than two days after admission to Sunnybrook, the man would become “Patient Zero” — the first COVID-19 case in Canada.

For several weeks, Leis, the hospital’s medical director of infection prevention and control, had been anticipating just such a moment. He had known since the end of December about the outbreak in Wuhan, China, and he’d been following Chinese authorities as they published information about the new pathogen and its effects.

Drawing on lessons learned from the SARS epidemic years earlier, Sunnybrook’s screening staff were already asking new specific questions of incoming patients. Protocols were sharpened. Just that morning, in fact, internal-medicine residents and faculty had done a refresher around protective gear.

“We were extremely suspicious that this was the novel coronavirus that had been described,” Leis says. “It does feel like a lifetime ago and yet it does just seem like yesterday.”

Dr. Lynfa Stroud, on-call general internist and division head of general internal medicine at Sunnybrook, was notified the new patient needed to be admitted.

“We didn’t know what exactly we were dealing with,” Stroud says. “We had early reports of presentations and how people evolved. We were a bit nervous but we felt very well prepared.”

The following day, as China was locking down Hubei province, Dr. Peter Donnelly, then head of Public Health Ontario, was asked about lockdowns in Canada. “Absolutely not,” he declared: “If a case comes here, and it is probably likely that we will have a case here, it will still be business as normal.”

Confirmation of the clinicians’ suspicions at Sunnybrook would come from the agency’s laboratory, which had been working furiously to develop and validate a suitable test for the novel coronavirus based on information from China. The agency’s lab had been testing samples for two weeks when the Sunnybrook call came in.

“They sent a sample to us in a cab,” says Dr. Vanessa Allen, chief of microbiology and laboratory science at Public Health Ontario.

It would be the start of a round-the-clock effort to test and retest the new samples.

“The last thing you need is a false signal or some kind of misunderstanding,” says Allen, who had been a resident during the SARS outbreak.

By about midday of Saturday, Jan. 25, the lab was sure it had identified the new organism that would soon take over the world and become a household name.

“It wasn’t called COVID at the time,” Allen says of the disease.

Over at Sunnybrook, Leis received the confirmation without much surprise.

“It was consistent with what we were seeing and what we suspected,” he says. “I was actually happy that the lab was able to confirm it.”

Within hours, public health authorities would let the country know that Canada had its first case of the “Wuhan novel coronavirus,” although further confirmation from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg was pending.

“I want Ontarians to know that the province is prepared to actively identify, prevent and control the spread of this serious infectious disease in Ontario,” Health Minister Christine Elliott declared as the province announced a new “dedicated web page” for latest information.

The wife of “Patient Zero” would also soon be confirmed as COVID-19 positive but was able to self-isolate at home.

“This (man) was one of the first cases to report on the more milder spectrum of disease, which was not something we were aware of,” Leis says. “It helped to teach us about the larger spectrum in disease severity that we see with COVID-19, which is very different from SARS.”

Looking back now at their roles in a small piece of Canadian pandemic history, those involved talk about how much we didn’t know about a virus that has since infected three-quarters of a million people in Canada, killing more than 18,800 of them.

“The initial detection, in some ways, was the easy part,” Allen says. “This virus and the implications are extremely humbling, and just the prolonged nature and impact of this was certainly not on my radar in January of last year.”

Yet treating “Patient Zero” and his wife afforded valuable lessons about what was then a poorly understood disease. For one thing, it became apparent that most of those afflicted don’t need hospital admission — hugely important given the massive number of infections and resulting stresses on critical-care systems.

“To be honest: We would have sent this patient home from the emergency room,” Stroud says. “We admitted him because, at that time, it wasn’t known very well what the course of illness was.”

Sunnybrook alone has now assessed more than 4,000 COVID-19 patients. To survive the onslaught, the hospital developed a program in which patients are screened and, if possible, sent to self-isolate under remote medical supervision.

Both “Patient Zero” and his wife recovered. Their cases would mark Canada’s first minor health-care skirmish of what was to become an all-out global defensive war against COVID-19. It also marked the beginning of relentless work hours for those on the front lines of health care.

For health-care workers, it’s been a long year since those first energized, if anxious, days one year ago. There’s a weariness in their voices, a recognition the war is still raging, even as vaccines developed with stunning alacrity offer some hope of a truce.

“We have been working essentially non-stop since last January and it’s not slowing down now,” Leis says. “Health-care teams are tired. There’s a lot of concern about burnout. It’s been challenging for sure.”

Despite COVID-19’s deadly toll, the vast majority of COVID-19 patients, like “Patient Zero,” recover. Still, even for some of those, their battle might never be over.

“These people just don’t get magically better,” Stroud says. “Some will have lifelong lung scarring and damage to their lungs.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2021.

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'It wasn't called COVID at the time:' One year since Canada's first COVID-19 case – CTV News

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TORONTO —
The patient, when he came into the hospital ER with what seemed to be mild pneumonia, wasn’t that sick and might otherwise have been sent home.

Except the man had just returned from China, where a new viral disease was spreading like a brush fire. His chest X-rays were also unusual.

“We’d never seen a case like this before,” says Dr. Jerome Leis. “I’d never seen an X-ray quite like that one.”

Newsletter sign-up: Get The COVID-19 Brief sent to your inbox

It was the evening of Jan. 23, 2020, when the team at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre decided to admit the 56-year-old patient. That same day, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, told the country:

“The risk of an outbreak in Canada remains low,” Tam said in a refrain she and other officials would repeat for weeks on end.

Less than two days after admission to Sunnybrook, the man would become “Patient Zero” — the first COVID-19 case in Canada.

For several weeks, Leis, the hospital’s medical director of infection prevention and control, had been anticipating just such a moment. He had known since the end of December about the outbreak in Wuhan, China, and he’d been following Chinese authorities as they published information about the new pathogen and its effects.

Drawing on lessons learned from the SARS epidemic years earlier, Sunnybrook’s screening staff were already asking new specific questions of incoming patients. Protocols were sharpened. Just that morning, in fact, internal-medicine residents and faculty had done a refresher around protective gear.

“We were extremely suspicious that this was the novel coronavirus that had been described,” Leis says. “It does feel like a lifetime ago and yet it does just seem like yesterday.”

Dr. Lynfa Stroud, on-call general internist and division head of general internal medicine at Sunnybrook, was notified the new patient needed to be admitted.

“We didn’t know what exactly we were dealing with,” Stroud says. “We had early reports of presentations and how people evolved. We were a bit nervous but we felt very well prepared.”

The following day, as China was locking down Hubei province, Dr. Peter Donnelly, then head of Public Health Ontario, was asked about lockdowns in Canada. “Absolutely not,” he declared: “If a case comes here, and it is probably likely that we will have a case here, it will still be business as normal.”

Confirmation of the clinicians’ suspicions at Sunnybrook would come from the agency’s laboratory, which had been working furiously to develop and validate a suitable test for the novel coronavirus based on information from China. The agency’s lab had been testing samples for two weeks when the Sunnybrook call came in.

“They sent a sample to us in a cab,” says Dr. Vanessa Allen, chief of microbiology and laboratory science at Public Health Ontario.

It would be the start of a round-the-clock effort to test and retest the new samples.

“The last thing you need is a false signal or some kind of misunderstanding,” says Allen, who had been a resident during the SARS outbreak.

By about midday of Saturday, Jan. 25, the lab was sure it had identified the new organism that would soon take over the world and become a household name.

“It wasn’t called COVID at the time,” Allen says of the disease.

Over at Sunnybrook, Leis received the confirmation without much surprise.

“It was consistent with what we were seeing and what we suspected,” he says. “I was actually happy that the lab was able to confirm it.”

Within hours, public health authorities would let the country know that Canada had its first case of the “Wuhan novel coronavirus,” although further confirmation from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg was pending.

“I want Ontarians to know that the province is prepared to actively identify, prevent and control the spread of this serious infectious disease in Ontario,” Health Minister Christine Elliott declared as the province announced a new “dedicated web page” for latest information.

The wife of “Patient Zero” would also soon be confirmed as COVID-19 positive but was able to self-isolate at home.

“This (man) was one of the first cases to report on the more milder spectrum of disease, which was not something we were aware of,” Leis says. “It helped to teach us about the larger spectrum in disease severity that we see with COVID-19, which is very different from SARS.”

Looking back now at their roles in a small piece of Canadian pandemic history, those involved talk about how much we didn’t know about a virus that has since infected three-quarters of a million people in Canada, killing more than 18,800 of them.

“The initial detection, in some ways, was the easy part,” Allen says. “This virus and the implications are extremely humbling, and just the prolonged nature and impact of this was certainly not on my radar in January of last year.”

Yet treating “Patient Zero” and his wife afforded valuable lessons about what was then a poorly understood disease. For one thing, it became apparent that most of those afflicted don’t need hospital admission — hugely important given the massive number of infections and resulting stresses on critical-care systems.

“To be honest: We would have sent this patient home from the emergency room,” Stroud says. “We admitted him because, at that time, it wasn’t known very well what the course of illness was.”

Sunnybrook alone has now assessed more than 4,000 COVID-19 patients. To survive the onslaught, the hospital developed a program in which patients are screened and, if possible, sent to self-isolate under remote medical supervision.

Both “Patient Zero” and his wife recovered. Their cases would mark Canada’s first minor health-care skirmish of what was to become an all-out global defensive war against COVID-19. It also marked the beginning of relentless work hours for those on the front lines of health care.

For health-care workers, it’s been a long year since those first energized, if anxious, days one year ago. There’s a weariness in their voices, a recognition the war is still raging, even as vaccines developed with stunning alacrity offer some hope of a truce.

“We have been working essentially non-stop since last January and it’s not slowing down now,” Leis says. “Health-care teams are tired. There’s a lot of concern about burnout. It’s been challenging for sure.”

Despite COVID-19’s deadly toll, the vast majority of COVID-19 patients, like “Patient Zero,” recover. Still, even for some of those, their battle might never be over.

“These people just don’t get magically better,” Stroud says. “Some will have lifelong lung scarring and damage to their lungs.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2021.

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Should governments name workplaces that have COVID-19 outbreaks? The pros and cons according to experts – CBC.ca

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Canada has a patchwork of different policies in place regarding the public disclosure of COVID-19 outbreaks in workplaces, and expert opinion seems as divided as the regulations on whether making outbreaks public helps or hinders the spread of the virus.

Earlier this month, the city of Toronto moved to publish the names of companies seeing multiple COVID-19 infections, even though the province of Ontario doesn’t disclose outbreaks.

“Across Canada, workplace reporting is not being done nearly enough,” said Joe Cressy, the chair of Toronto’s Board of Health and a councillor in Ontario’s capital.

In Quebec and Ontario, workplace outbreaks surpassed those in long-term care facilities for a time before the new year arrived. 

Recent Ontario outbreaks at a 9-1-1 dispatch centre and a Canada Post distribution facility, plus outbreaks at industrial settings in Alberta and B.C., and others at food processing plants and warehouses late last year have renewed concerns about workplace spread.

CBC News looked at how provincial and territorial governments disclose COVID-19 workplace outbreaks across the country — and the pros and cons of making them public.

Who names companies and who doesn’t     

In Newfoundland and the rest of Atlantic Canada, workplaces are only named publicly if health officials cannot identify and contact people who may be at risk of infection and should isolate and monitor themselves for symptoms or get tested.  

This means workplaces that are not open to the public are rarely named, while grocery stores and transportation services, such as ferries and flights, for instance are common on Nova Scotia’s published list of exposure risks.      

Newfoundland does publish a list of workplace outbreaks at industrial sites in Alberta and B.C., because so many of its residents travel for work to those provinces.     

In Canada’s North, territorial governments will publish the locations where there was a risk of public exposure, which can include workplace names.

Manitoba’s  policy mirrors the practice in Atlantic Canada, with businesses named only if health officials are not able to complete contact tracing.  

Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. all publish the names of workplaces with outbreaks. 

Canada’s largest provinces Quebec and Ontario, however, do not publish the names of specific workplaces experiencing outbreaks. 

WATCH | Why Toronto has decided it needs to disclose workplace outbreaks:

The City of Toronto will start releasing more information about COVID-19 outbreaks in workplaces after weeks of lockdown haven’t brought case numbers down. 2:04

In a statement, Ontario’s Ministry of Health said disclosing the names of companies or workplaces “is within the purview of local public health units.” 

Though Toronto just began publishing workplace outbreak names, Hamilton has been doing so since last spring.    

Meanwhile, some disclosures come from companies themselves, or from workers or union officials publicizing the issue.

Naming brings accountability 

While standard public health practice is to only name outbreak locations for communicable diseases when there’s a risk of exposure for the public, Cressy believes the best way to make government and companies accountable for protecting workers is to name every workplace outbreak, everywhere.

“COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting low income frontline workers,” he said. “In a pandemic, information is power. And information can also provoke change.” 

Dr. Nitin Mohan, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Western University in London, Ont., thinks naming workplaces could lead to changes that would protect essential workers.   

“Understanding how government is responding to a once-in-a-generation pandemic requires us to have the available data. So if we’re seeing workplace outbreaks, and we know that a government is not supportive of providing paid sick leave, essentially, folks are armed with more information for the next election cycle.” 

Dr. Nitin Mohan thinks naming workplaces could lead to more public awareness and changes that would protect essential workers, such as paid sick leave. (Submitted by Nitin Mohan)

 

For Mohan, naming workplaces would also “provide us with a lot of data about community spread.”  However, he said the privacy of individual workers must be protected, which would mean some small companies couldn’t be identified.     

Naming could backfire 

Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist with Epi Research Inc. of Winnipeg, says naming businesses could backfire.      

She says it could actually scare employees into not reporting feeling sick if they fear being blamed for bad publicity from an outbreak.  

At the same time, she worries it could create a stigma around businesses that might have good safety practices, but still had an outbreak.   

“My concern is always that we don’t make that mistake of equating shaming with accountability. It’s not the same thing.”

Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist with Epi Research Inc. of Winnipeg, is concerned naming businesses with COVID-19 outbreaks could scare employees into not reporting feeling sick if they fear being blamed for bad publicity at their company. (Submitted by Charlotte Falck)

 

Carr supports public health transparency when it helps give people the power to make choices or take action.  

Publicizing outbreaks at long-term care facilities and hospitals, she said, “has an associated action people need to understand,” like: “I can’t visit my loved one.” 

She thinks workplaces should be named when COVID-19 could be spread in the community, but naming every single workplace with an outbreak doesn’t give the public useful information about whether they need to self-monitor or go for testing.

Keeping workers safe   

In Alberta, where workplace outbreaks are published, a union spokesperson says the naming policy is mostly a public relations issue for employers. 

“On the ground, on the shop floor, in the workplaces … it hasn’t meant a whole lot,” said Micheal Hughes of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 401.

“Certainly not enough to stop outbreaks from happening.”

Before Alberta started naming workplaces, it was workers and UFCW that exposed what became the largest COVID-19 workplace outbreak in Canada at the Cargill meat packing plant in High River, Alberta. 

WATCH | Family of Cargill worker who died of COVID-19 pushed for police investigation:

A CBC News Investigation has found at least 33 workers across Canada have died after getting COVID-19 on the job. Police are now investigating the death of a man who worked at the Cargill meat processing plant in High River, Alta., where 950 people got sick. 4:15

At least 950 workers, almost half the plant’s staff, tested positive for COVID-19 by early May 2020.

Recently, the RCMP launched an investigation into possible criminal negligence by the company in the death of Benito Quesada, a 51-year-old Cargill worker who died from COVID-19.  

Hughes believes the best way to keep workers safe is to have “a worker-centred, robust kind of regulatory system” including clear and mandatory guidelines for workplaces and more inspections by labour officials.  

In the fall, Ottawa began giving cash to food processors across the country to help them deal with COVID-19.

The $77.5-million emergency fund is meant to help the sector implement measures to fight the coronavirus, including acquiring more protective equipment for workers.

Epidemiologists say meat plants present ideal conditions for the COVID-19 virus to spread, because workers are in close contact, windows can’t be opened for fresh air and the temperature is cool.     

Hughes said while naming businesses as workplace outbreaks continue may help “motivate a company to do things,” the focus of the UFCW is to continue the  push for safety measures and benefits like paid sick leave.  

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