While foreign workers were the focus of concerns during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the second wave has brought the risks of the disease home to local farms.
The past week saw Fraser Health Authority declare outbreaks at two farms in the Fraser Valley.
On December 2, an outbreak was declared at Millennium Pacific Greenhouses Ltd. in Delta when transmission of COVID-19 was identified among staff. Ten employees had tested positive for the virus that causes the disease at the time.
On December 6, an outbreak was declared at an unnamed mink farm in the Fraser Valley where eight workers tested positive. Mink at the farm have also tested positive. BC’s chief veterinarian has placed the farm under a quarantine order prohibiting the movement of animals and materials from the property, according to the BC Ministry of Agriculture. “A plan is in place to provide feed and care to the mink during the outbreak,” it adds.
In Denmark, mink farms were depopulated following outbreaks and transmission of the virus between mink and workers.
Fraser Health notes that “enhanced measures are in place to ensure the safety of animals and farm owners.” While it did not mention the risk of the virus spreading between mink and workers, the health authority did note that “all employers in BC, including mink farms, are required to implement COVID-19 Safety Plans,” including an assessment of “the risks to workers.”
“WorkSafeBC’s Consultation & Education Services team is reaching out directly to other mink farms in BC to discuss requirements,” it noted, pointedly.
Fraser Health is also working with Millennium Pacific to strengthen its COVID-19 mitigation strategies. While greenhouses in Ontario were hit hard by COVID-19 during the first wave of the pandemic, the outbreak at Millennium was a first for BC.
Moreover, unlike in cases at farms in the Okanagan earlier this year, foreign workers were not identified as being involved in the current outbreaks.
BC’s isolation of incoming foreign workers at the government’s expense has been praised as a model for other provinces, and a key reason why foreign workers here have not been identified as the cause of any COVID-19 outbreaks at local farms.