• Michael Laxer

New numbers in Ontario show large workplaces are fueling pandemic outbreaks

The focus in fighting the pandemic has to shift to large workplaces and workplace prevention.


New numbers in Ontario show what many of us have been saying for months. Large workplaces and all the things that are needed to keep them open are playing a central role in driving the pandemic in the province.


The Toronto Star reported today (April 6) that:


According to data from Toronto Public Health, a full 68 per cent of all workplace COVID-19 outbreaks so far have taken place in offices, warehouses, construction sites and food processing plants — many of which have continued to operate throughout the pandemic — leading many to question why Premier Doug Ford keeps opening and closing restaurants and salons while doing little to stop the rampant transmission happening at workplaces outside of the public eye.

You can see the reality of what has been unfolding in the chart they made:

The pandemic is not being driven by boutique shops or restaurant patios. If they are being closed -- which they do have to be at this point -- but Amazon warehouses are buzzing along the "lockdown" is not about protecting people but minimizing the damage to profits.


And it is not an effective or serious lockdown. The vast majority of workplaces are open in Ontario. This is not a decision based on the science or health needs at all.


It is also obvious that attempts to blame individual "bad actors" or "young people" behaving irresponsibly are a total diversion.


As I noted in November in the piece: Class and the pandemic in Ontario:


While Ford and crew have not been willing to take the steps that need to be to actually stop the nightmare unfolding right now -- and while they are trying to shift the blame for what is occurring in ways that are basically fictional -- there is a purpose to their approach. And that purpose is to make sure the economy can keep driving along in spite of the consequences for workers, the elderly, the marginalized, people living in poverty and people from communities being hit the hardest.

That was true then and remains true as the "third wave" threatens to spiral out-of-control.


Today's article in the Star reflects this:


Public-health experts and advocates note that it’s the privileged who have been confined to their homes, while workers at manufacturing plants and warehouses continue to go to their jobs, fearful of losing a day’s pay if they fall ill. Meanwhile, other low-paid workers and small business owners in sectors like food service have been prey to an unpredictable ebb and flow of restrictions that at this point feels endless.
Given where the workplace outbreaks are occurring, many say it’s past time for a pivot in workplace protections like paid sick leave, and ramping up on-site testing and vaccinations will be required to prevent the spread of COVID-19 workplaces where the virus is spreading.

The continuation of in-person public schooling is also playing a role:


Schools, as I have pointed out in the past, are remaining open to facilitate workplaces staying open. There is a direct line between the two.


The focus in fighting the pandemic has to shift to large workplaces and workplace prevention even if this impacts profits, means shutdowns or disrupts the flow of goods at times. Greater income supports, in addition to paid sick leave, also have to be put into place so that workplaces can be closed when necessary without the workers facing bankruptcy or destitution -- which is a very real danger in a society where millions are just a couple of paycheques away from not being able to pay the bills.


If these steps are not taken then not only will wave after wave of the pandemic keep hitting Ontario until vaccinations are much further along, the government will also have to keep doing the ineffective, disruptive and dispiriting partial lockdowns as covid fatigue grows.


In the long run this is certainly more harmful both to our economy and our society than would be taking the necessary steps immediately.

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