Horgan blames workers for workplace Covid outbreaks

By Shannon Waters November 19, 2020

B.C.’s current Covid case surge is due primarily to social gatherings, according to Premier John Horgan, who suggested yesterday that workplace outbreaks are resulting from employees bringing the virus to work after attending social events.

“These clusters are coming from social gatherings,” Horgan said. “They’re not coming from workplaces, predominantly. If there’s an outbreak in a workplace, it’s because of the social gatherings that led to an employee bringing the virus into that workplace.”

All B.C. workplaces have been required to have a Covid safety plan in place since the spring in order to reduce transmission. B.C.’s most recent epidemiologic modelling suggests exposures within households have been a significant driver of cases and case clusters across age groups since mid-September, but for British Columbians aged 20 to 59, workplaces also account for a large chunk of exposures.

B.C. has yet to mandate any form of provincial paid sick leave. Under the federal program implemented in September, anyone unable to work because they are sick or must self-isolate — and whose employer does not provide paid sick days — can receive up to $500 per week for two weeks. This includes health-care workers.

Labour advocates have criticized the federal program for not going far enough, as has B.C.’s seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie, warning that many workers in private long-term care homes can’t afford to stay home sick.

“We’ve incentivized workers to come to work when they’re not feeling well,” she told News1130 last week. “They don’t make that much money to start with, and then, if they’re sick, they don’t get paid. Ironically, the better paid people are more likely to be the people with paid sick leave.”

Mayors in Fraser Health want more information about local conditions
Horgan made the remarks in response to a question about a letter signed by the mayors of five municipalities in the Fraser Health region who requested the province provide “more granular and frequent data” about local Covid cases to help local governments make “informed decisions” about local safety plans and facility operations.

“We appreciate the privacy and reliability concerns that can be associated with more granular data; however, we strongly believe that the benefits associated with responsible use of this data is significant and needs to be considered,” the mayors wrote.

Horgan did not appear receptive to the request.

“My message to the mayors is the same as my message to the citizens in [Fraser Health] — you need to amend your behaviour, you need to reduce your social gatherings,” he said.

Horgan denied B.C. is providing less information than other jurisdictions — even though Ontario regularly delivers more specific regional data about Covid cases and Toronto provides neighbourhood-specific information in some cases.

“We’re not hiding anything,” Horgan said. “We have been as transparent as any jurisdiction in North America on a daily basis for months, giving appropriate information to the public so they have an understanding of the risks of COVID-19 in B.C.”

The premier said all British Columbians should be taking the second wave of the pandemic seriously and singled out residents of the hard-hit Fraser Health region for “gathering in large numbers, larger numbers than have been directed.”

“Covid is everywhere, it’s everywhere, and we need to adapt our behaviours to that simple truth,” Horgan said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in Delta, or if you’re in Langley, or if you’re in Chilliwack, Covid is in the community so you need to act accordingly.”

In Brampton, Ontario — a warehouse-hub city like Surrey and other cities in the Fraser Valley — Covid cases are also soaring compared to nearby downtown Toronto. Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown says outbreaks in “industrial settings and essential workplaces” that service many residents of the GTA are to blame for high Covid case numbers in Brampton.

“While many people are sitting in the comfort of their homes and going to grocery stores, it’s an Amazon worker, a trucker in Brampton, or someone in a food-processing plant that made sure they had their food,” he told the Globe and Mail.