Ontario Premier Doug Ford wants people who work in his province’s auto industry to be tested for COVID-19, although he didn’t specify whether he was talking about assembly line workers, dealers or engineers when he made the plea Thursday at his daily news conference at Queen’s Park.
Ford has asked health officials to deliver a plan for expanded testing next week, after Ontario's testing rates dropped in recent days. Ontario completed 10,506 tests Wednesday, marking a fourth straight day it fell short of its goal of doing at least 16,000 tests per day.
Ford said he wants truckers, teachers, cab drivers, those who work in food processing plants and other places tested more frequently.
“We want to go into areas of the automotive sector and start testing people in automotive sector right across the province,” he said. “That’s what I want and I’m confident it is going to happen. As sure as I’m standing here, we’re going to make sure we ramp it up.
“We can’t just be testing people with symptoms. We have to be going into the broader public and start testing as many people as possible, asymptomatic people. Until we do that, we can’t get our hands around the [pandemic]. How do we know how many asymptomatic people are out there right now?”
Ford acknowledged there might be a difference between what he wants and what will actually happen, and said he's frustrated at testing lags.
“But I do have confidence in Ontario health and public health. That’s what I want and that’s what we’re going to get to,” he said of an increase in testing.
Ford’s call for testing those in the auto industry comes just days after some automakers restarted production in Ontario.
Honda slowly began Civic assembly in Alliston, Ont., on May 12 while FCA and GM fired up lines in Windsor, Brampton and Ingersoll on Tuesday.
Production also resumed in the United States, where at least three Ford Motor Co. employees have already tested positive for COVID19, according to Automotive News in Detroit. The positive results briefly halted production at two of the automaker’s plants in Illinois and Michigan.
When reached by email, the premier’s office didn’t immediately say which segments of Ontario’s auto industry would see increased testing, how often testing would be done or who would pay for it.
“We’re in the process of developing a plan that could include a number of new settings,” Ford’s press secretary Ivana Yelich wrote. “We’ll have more to say next week.”
The federal government is ready to help provinces massively scale up their COVID-19 testing capacity to fend off a potential second wave of the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday.
Testing needs to increase immediately in Ontario and Quebec, where the economies are starting to reopen but the number of new COVID-19 cases remains high, said Trudeau, who first offered provinces a national framework on testing and contact tracing last week.
Trudeau was scheduled to hold a weekly call with provincial and territorial premiers Thursday evening.
None of the five automakers that operate assembly plants in Ontario were immediately available for comment Thursday.
UNION WANTS TESTING
Earlier in the day, Unifor, the union that represents hourly workers at the Detroit Three plants in Ontario, called for more testing.
“Proactive workplace testing must become a central component in the fight to contain COVID-19. Testing should not simply be reserved for workers showing symptoms, but for anyone who has been exposed to a COVID-positive individual,” the union said in a statement.
It’s also calling for contact tracing.
“Contact-trace workers who have been infected with COVID-19 and immediately implement quarantine measures without penalizing affected workers,” the union said. “Jurisdictions where reopening has been successful have relied on both mass testing and rigorous contact-tracing.
“Public health authorities will need to receive additional funding to develop and implement effective systems to contact-trace COVID-positive workers and quarantine those who have been exposed. Workers who are placed in quarantine must be able to access a minimum of 14-days of paid sick leave.”
The auto industry directly employs more than 100,000 people in Ontario, according to the province and Unifor, which represents workers at assembly plants, suppliers and dealerships.
Automakers are subjecting their employees to daily health surveys, temperature checks and social distancing in the plants in an effort to keep them all healthy.
Meanwhile, Ontario just started opening up its economy on Tuesday, allowing auto dealerships and other retail stores to open if they have street entrances. However, they have to follow provincial guidelines that outline social distancing and cleaning measures.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.