Cemore Gordon is praying for the day he can enjoy something the rest of us take for granted even during a pandemic.
“I’m suffocating,” the farm worker said. “I’m praying for the day I can be outside and enjoy fresh air.”
Gordon, who travelled from his home in Jamaica, is one of more than 50 migrant farm workers enduring a 14-day quarantine at the Best Western Brant Park Inn before heading off to work at Norfolk-area farms. He will be working at Schuyler Farms in Simcoe and the day can’t come soon enough.
Speaking to a reporter through a mask and more than six feet away, Gordon said the air inside is stale and he believes it to be unhealthy. He understands steps have to be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
But he doesn’t understand why he and the rest of the workers are confined to their rooms. Those who have a balcony are little better off than those who don’t, he explains.
Gordon, like many of the others in the hotel, arrived just over a week ago and will finish his quarantine period on March 26. The lack of fresh air is an ongoing issue, food, at least in the beginning, was also an issue.
It’s not that the food was bad. It just wasn’t Jamaican.
That problem has been addressed thanks to efforts of Leanne Arnal and the Irie Grill on Market Street in Brantford. Arnal arranged to have one Jamaican meal a day sent to the seasonal workers.
Arnal, often described as an advocate for migrant workers, prefers to be called a ‘unifier’ because she is acting, at present, as a liaison between Schuyler Farms of Simcoe and the farm’s migrant workers holed up in the Best Western.
Some of the dinners include Jamaican oxtail rice and peas, jerk chicken and kingfish dinners.
“We’re just trying to provide a feeling of what they would have back home,” said Amanda Wallace, who runs the Irie Grill with her husband Collin Raymoore.
Wallace and Raymoore and their family were among the more than 20 people who participated in a physically-distanced, mask-wearing parade around the Best Western at noon on March 20.
Waving Jamaican flags and carrying signs that said thank-you, participants played music and waved at the quarantined workers. The workers stepped outside their rooms to wave back and acknowledge the support.
“For most of them, the first seven days of the quarantine are OK, it’s a time to relax after a long trip,” Arnal said. “But then it becomes really difficult and we just want to brighten their day.
“This is what I call a ‘spirit-raising’ event.”
In her role with Schuyler Farms, Arnal tries to make the 14-day quarantine as bearable as possible given the restrictions. The event was a way to show the workers that they are respected and appreciated, she said.
“They are essential workers,” Arnal said. “There is just so much they do for us.
“They work long hours which enables us to eat and they help our farmers ship produce around the world.”
While workers send money home, they also spend money here contributing to the local economy, Arnal said.
Under federal government rules, seasonal farm workers are tested for COVID-19 prior to leaving their country of origin. They are then swabbed upon arrival and provided a kit to self-administer a test 10 days into their 14-day isolation.
After March 21, the federal government will allow asymptomatic workers to travel directly to their destination after getting tested at the airport provided they travel by private transportation and are only accompanied by those who travelled with them to Canada.
Those who need to take public transportation to a secondary location will be required to stay in government authorized accommodation and await the results of their COVID-19 test.