By Jenna Cocullo/The Chatham Voice/CP
The town of Chatham-Kent in southwestern Ontario is dealing with “a fairly large (COVID-19) outbreak,” according to the municipality’s chief medical officer of health.
“We did a lot of tests, we have 60 pending from yesterday alone,” said Dr. David Colby at a press briefing on Thursday morning.
Four new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Chatham-Kent later in the afternoon. The daily update included stats over the last 48 hours as CK Public Health offices were closed on Remembrance Day.
The cumulative total of cases sits at 445 for the municipality, 28 of which are currently active. No individuals are currently hospitalized and the death toll remains at three.
Colby said the recent surge in cases, which are affecting half a dozen Chatham-Kent schools, are all tied to a workplace outbreak.
Twelve of the active cases come from the specific workplace, which has not been released to the public out of privacy concerns. There are an additional four cases from the workplace, however, the people affected do not live in Chatham-Kent and are not recorded in local statistics.
“We believe that contracted workers were brought in from Windsor-Essex, which started that off. And that was not illegal but it is highly discouraged in all the guidelines,” he said.
Formal workplace restrictions considered
In response, Colby said is considering issuing a class order that would add formal restrictions.
“I’m considering another class, order to prevent contract workers from coming from other jurisdictions.”
However, before Colby puts pen to paper, he said he will have to think very carefully about the negative consequences; such as plants who rely on external speciality equipment being forced to shut down once if they cannot properly access what they need.
“There are probably more businesses than we know that depend on that, and it’s got to be very carefully worded,” he said.
Colby said there are approximately 100 employees at this workplace. Only the 16 cases have been confirmed at this time.
Impact on schools
The positive tests are also having an impact on Chatham’s schools.
St. Clair Catholic School Board listed Ursuline College, Chatham, as having a positive case. Only one classroom cohort, which involves two staff members and 21 students, has been affected, according to Deb Crawford, director of education.
In addition, Lambton-Kent District School Board is now up to four schools in Chatham with a positive case: Chatham Kent Secondary School, Queen Elizabeth II, Tecumseh Public School, and Winston Churchill. A.A Wright Public School, Wallaceburg is also waiting on results from a probable case.
“At this point, it continues to be community spread that is impacting the schools — what I’m suggesting though that it’s coming from outside of the school into the school. There has not been a transmission or transference in the school setting,” said John Howitt, director of education, LKDSB.
More than 100 students are impacted and 10-12 staff members across the five Chatham-Kent schools. Howitt said they are prepared to provide remote learning programming within 24 hours to students dismissed by Public Health.
Colby said only one cohort has not been found to be tied to the workplace outbreak. The source of the case is still under investigation.
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