Ont. researchers conduct COVID-19 study with migrant workers

Ont. researchers conduct COVID-19 study with migrant workers
Jul 24, 2020

Scientists hope to learn how regular testing may affect the spread of the virus in communal settings

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

A group of Ontario doctors hopes migrant workers will participate in a study to help researchers learn how COVID-19 behaves in group living settings.

The Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team (HamSMaRT) looks to recruit as many migrant workers as it can for the study. The researchers need final approval from the Ethics Review Board before they can commence testing.

HamSMaRT hopes weekly tests will flag positive cases of COVID-19 before people start to show symptoms. And the regular testing cycle could help researchers understand how routine testing affects the spread of the virus.

“The question we’re trying to answer is ‘What is the best way to minimize outbreaks in settings where people are living in more communal-type areas?’” Dr. Tim O’Shea told Farms.com. He’s a HamSMaRT founder and associate professor of infectious diseases at McMaster University.

“We’re trying to see if testing people once per week to see if they’re carrying the virus might help us identify people early enough to avoid any outbreaks.”

Using migrant workers for the study is an expansion of work the HamSMaRT team has already conducted.

The team performed about 2,200 COVID-19 tests on staff and residents in Hamilton’s shelters over the past 14 weeks. Nobody tested positive in that study.

“It’s been encouraging that there haven’t been any positive cases,” O’Shea said. “But, at the same time, it doesn’t help us answer any of the questions we’re asking.”

The researchers tested shelter residents with deep nasal swabs and regular oral swabs. People were more willing to have the test done by oral swab, so that’s how the migrant workers would be tested, O’Shea said.

Hamilton has about 450 temporary workers in the area this year.

O’Shea anticipates hesitancy from members of the industry to sign up for the tests. But producers and farm workers should understand the results from this study could help others, he said.

“I sense from farmers and workers that there are concerns around lost productivity,” he said. “But the main thing we’re trying to do is prevent large outbreaks from happening and to help protect other workers on the farm.”

Anyone wanting more information on the study can contact O’Shea via email.

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