Hukowich reviewing rules for farm operations in Haldimand-Norfolk

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Haldimand-Norfolk’s interim acting medical officer of health says he’s open to making changes to locally mandated public health guidelines imposed on farmers.

But Dr. Alexander Hukowich says he needs more data and time before making any changes or decisions.

Speaking at a Haldimand-Norfolk Board of Health meeting on June 1, Hukowich said he can’t say if the regulations previously imposed are the right way to go or not until he reviews the data.

“I can say that I’m getting divergent opinions as to what should be done locally,” Hukowich said. “I’ve also asked the staff to provide me with data to help me decide what’s best to do and I’m hoping we can come to some sort of conclusion within a week or so.=

“I’m certainly open to making changes. I’ve said it before I’m not one of these people who thinks there’s only one way of dealing with a situation.”

There are various ways of dealing with a situation, he added.

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“But I need to get more data and I need to consider this a little bit more before I come to some sort of conclusion,” Hukowich said.

Hukowich has also reached out to other public health officials including those in Niagara and Windsor-Essex for information.

Farmers in Haldimand and Norfolk were upset with Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, the former medical officer of health, who imposed an order capping the number of migrant workers who can quarantine in a bunkhouse at three regardless the size of the facility.

All other health districts apply the federal standard, which requires two-metres of social distancing at all times. Under the federal formula, the floor area of a bunkhouse determines how many workers can quarantine in any given facility.

Growers of labour-intensive, time-sensitive fruits and vegetables say the locally imposed standard stops them from situating their workforces in a timely manner. Farmers say that because of the measures, they have lost production and had to leave crops in the field last year due to a lack of help.

Hukowich also told the board he expects schools will be re-opening soon.

Even though he disagrees with the pending provincial direction, Hukowich said he won’t get in the way of the province’s plans.

When they (provincial public health officials) learned that he disagreed, they called and asked if he would issue a Section 22 order to keep the schools closed, Hukowich said.

“I told them I was going to have enough problems with the farmers that I didn’t want to get into trouble with the schools too,” Hukowich said. “I told them I would not be issuing a Section 22 order to keep schools closed.”

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The conversation took place after Hukowich participated in a conference call of 34 of the province’s 37 medical officers of health to discuss the re-opening of schools. Of those 34 participants only two, Hukowich and the representative from Porcupine said the schools should remain closed.

The others enthusiastically endorsed the idea of school openings, he said.

“I indicated that it wasn’t my first choice for a variety of reasons,” Hukowich said. “Not because we’ve had a lot of children who have had COVID, but because there were a lot of potential contacts that would have to be dealt with if there was a positive test because of school busing in particular and the fact that some kids take more than one bus.”

Hukowich said he spoke with local public health staff and they felt putting the emphasis on getting kids vaccinated to be ready for a fall return to school would be a better approach.

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