Manufacturers, warehouses are the leading source of COVID-19 outbreaks outside schools — but many still don’t require that workers get vaccinated

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As Ontario enters the third month of its fourth pandemic wave, the number of cases continues to rise despite rising vaccination levels and widespread restrictions on businesses.

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Provincial public health data indicates that a major factor may be a lack of comprehensive vaccination requirements for workers at warehouses, manufacturers and construction sites, the workplace where most COVID-19 transmission is now occurring.

Data from Ontario’s Ministry of Health shows that outside the education system, such workplaces remain a major source of active outbreaks in the province. But a survey by the Star of employers in those areas shows that many still do not require workers to be vaccinated to enter work sites.

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Health experts say this could be a sign that more needs to be done to boost vaccination efforts in the manufacturing and construction sectors.

“It is not surprising that too many workers under one roof for an extended period, some unvaccinated, would create a situation where COVID-19 spreads,” said Colin Furness, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto.

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As of Tuesday, the ministry was reporting 48 active outbreaks among “other workplaces” — including manufacturers, warehouses, construction sites and offices — with bars, restaurants, gyms, tattoo shops and hair salons, and 15. than active outbreaks.

Meanwhile, Toronto Public Health has reported that 51 percent of all workplace outbreaks have come from a warehouse, manufacturer, food processor or construction site in the city, since it began publishing workplace COVID-19 data. The figure largely eclipses the number of outbreaks in restaurants, bars and gyms, which account for 12 percent of the city’s total.

While restaurants, bars and gyms have vaccine certification requirements to help protect customers and keep COVID-19 away from premises, there are relatively few provincially mandated measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in large manufacturers and construction sites. There are requirements.

The Peel region, home to wholesale warehouses and manufacturers in the province, introduced measures last April to temporarily close workplaces that reported three or more COVID-19 cases among employees. Those measures were rescinded in June.However, before Ontario’s first phase of reopening.

Most major employers introduced mask mandates and social-distancing guidelines for workers at the start of the pandemic, but some have implemented company-wide vaccine requirements for managers and employees.

Star contacted more than a dozen manufacturers, food processors and manufacturing sites that have faced workplace outbreaks in the past to find out how many workers now need vaccinations to reach work sites.

Amazon, Alisdon, Amherst Crane Rentals, WG Pro-Manufacturing, Pioneer Steel Buildings and National Energy Equipment all said they do not require vaccination, despite workplace outbreaks being reported at their Ontario locations in the past.

Two companies – or Yes Foods and Reliance Construction – said they require employees to be vaccinated. Other companies contacted did not respond by the deadline.

Alisdon, one of Canada’s largest manufacturing companies, said it aims to vaccinate all employees by November, while Amherst Crane Rental said it hopes to implement a mandatory vaccine policy by the end of October.

Revath Devanandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa, says employers may not mandate vaccines for workers in these areas to maintain staff levels.

“They probably fear the repercussions of human resources,” Devanandan said. “Unfortunately, vaccine hesitancy can be very high in these groups and they actually run the risk of isolating and depriving many workers, and this can potentially impact productivity.”

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which favors vaccine-certificate requirements for small businesses, has pointed to the comparatively looser rules for large corporations, as many sole proprietors feel that the province’s rules limit small businesses. injured disproportionately.

“This is what we have seen throughout the pandemic, and it has been a major source of frustration among small business owners,” said Ryan Mallow, Ontario regional director for the CFIB.

“They’re wondering: Why do we have these additional administrative burdens and responsibilities when we’re not the place that’s leading the workplace outbreak?”

Dina Ladd, executive director of the Workers’ Action Center, said part of the problem is due to meager benefits and few paid sick days for workers in these areas.

Ontario introduced a temporary sick-day program in April after long-standing pressure from advocates and health experts who said access to fully paid sick days was crucial to containing the virus. The program allows employers to claim up to $200 per day of vacation for up to three days.

While the program caused an increase in workers’ sick-day claims, Ladd said the total number of claims is “modest.”

“We found that workers who had paid sick days didn’t use them because they got sick, but instead used them for vaccinations,” Ladd said.

“Many employees are still afraid to tell their employer that they are taking the day off because they are sick, probably with COVID-19. Many go to work even when they are sick.”

Jacob Lorink is a Toronto-based reporter who covers business for the Star. Reach him via email: [email protected]

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