Ontario will allow some people who test positive for COVID-19 but do not have symptoms to return immediately to their workplaces with precautions, separated from those who do not have the virus, according to guidance released on Wednesday.
The guidance document said “work self-isolation” outside of healthcare settings would be allowed for asymptomatic employees “deemed critical to operations” at local public health workers’ discretion and that employers would be responsible for ensuring they do not put others at risk.
The province is battling outbreaks that have killed three migrant farmworkers, and has started mass-testing asymptomatic farmworkers. The change could send some of them back to their jobs.
It was prompted by a cluster of farmworkers who tested positive but were all asymptomatic, said Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams.
“As we learn more, we change things, we adapt,” he told a briefing in Toronto.
Experts and officials have said that people who are not showing symptoms can spread the virus.
Keith Currie, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, said employers would have to separate positive workers, or if that is not possible, tell them not to work.
Currie said anyone who did not feel comfortable working would not have to do so, and would be eligible for workers’ compensation.
Susana Caxaj, a nursing professor and a coordinator of the Migrant Worker Health Expert Working Group, said assuming that asymptomatic workers would not spread the virus was “wishful thinking.”
Farmworkers often do hard physical labor for long hours.
“They’re pushing their body to the limit,” she said. “If a person is actually not asymptomatic but pre-symptomatic, we could be putting that person at greater risk.”