A document circulating among public health officials, obtained by CBC News, indicates that 72 workplaces in Winnipeg suspected clusters of COVID-19 from March 1 to May 19. As many as 39 of those clusters were discovered in the first three weeks of May alone, according to the document.
The province’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, on Thursday announced plans to use health hazard orders to shut down workplaces where there are multiple cases of COVID-19 as well as a risk of transmission.
“This means that a factory, office or warehouse can be ordered to close if we identify a transmission in that workplace,” Roussin said Thursday during a press briefing.
“We know that companies, for the most part, have done a great job protecting their employees, but they have a responsibility to make sure employees follow the fundamentals and prevent pass-through to now ensure business continuity and prevent the risk of closure. “
Roussin said the province used public health orders to shut down businesses using health risk orders by Thursday.
“We didn’t wait. We’ve always had that ability, ”he said. “It was used, but we really changed direction. Rather than shutting down the entire industry, we’ll be focusing the targeted approach on where we see transmission. “
Manitoba Public Health could not immediately say how many businesses have been closed since the start of the pandemic due to the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Jeff Traeger, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, wondered if the province wanted to know if people contract COVID-19 at work.
Traeger said his union was made aware of 108 cases of COVID-19 at a single grocery chain in Manitoba and that in each of those cases the province has ruled out workplace transmission.
“We’re tired of hearing ‘no evidence of workplace transmission”, “Traeger said in an interview.
A public health spokesperson declined a CBC News request to indicate the number of suspected clusters of COVID-19 cases in the workplace, insisting the request should be analyzed because it “involves more than simply providing raw figures ”.
Fourteen months after the start of the pandemic, public health is now in the process of “finalizing the guidelines of the working groups for employers” which include “information on how to assess the risk in the workplace”, he said. declared the spokesperson.
Public health is also finalizing guidelines for employers to organize the data they collect, the spokesperson added.
Dr Jillian Horton, a Winnipeg internist who has criticized Manitoba’s pandemic response, said she does not understand why the province is only now developing these guidelines.
“I don’t understand how at this time, so far in this catastrophic third wave of the pandemic, a clear picture of what’s going on is only emerging,” Horton said in an interview.
Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew also attacked the province for the slow movement on workplace transmission.
“The provincial government here in Manitoba has not provided a clear picture of what is happening in terms of the spread in the community and the spread in the workplace,” he said.
Roussin said the province would release more information on workplace transmission in the future.
On Thursday, he said about 10% of the transmission of COVID-19 right now is related to workplaces. He called the number of work-related cases significant, stressing that there is a risk that employees will take COVID-19 home with them.
A new public health order, which is expected to take effect on Saturday, requires companies to allow employees to work from home, where possible.