The City of Windsor is being asked to assume responsibility for operating the COVID-19 isolation and recovery centre for temporary foreign workers, but the city is calling on upper levels of government to continue funding the operation.

More than 500 temporary foreign workers have tested positive for COVID since the onset of the pandemic.

At the urging of area municipalities, the province stepped in with emergency response management teams to bring isolating workers under one roof during their 14-day quarantine periods following a positive test.

“They did a phenomenal job in helping us stabilize this situation,” says the city’s health services commissioner, Jelena Payne. “That crisis in their opinion has now been stabilized and they’re looking to turn it over to the local community.”

The City of Windsor is now being asked to assume responsibility and combine it with their existing centre targeting the city’s vulnerable population groups.

In a report to council, city administration says taking over that role assumes greater health risks as well as the economic risks of doing nothing. But right at the top of that list of considerations are the financial implications.

“Now the question moving forward is, is the city prepared to take this on into the future as we move through the pandemic?” says Payne.

That’s what Windsor’s council will have to consider next Monday, Sept. 14.

The Canadian Red Cross has been providing the services under contract from upper levels of government.

“We want to be partners in the solution, we certainly understand and appreciate when we say ‘we’re all in this together,’ it’s very, very true,” says Windsor Mayor, Drew Dilkens.

But administration still doesn’t know exactly what it will cost to staff, feed, house and care for isolated workers. The city wants assurances, in writing, that upper levels of government will still provide funding — if the city assumes responsibility for operating the centre.

“You can bet that we’re going to be going after and making sure before we agree to step into the shoes of the province and federal government to deliver these services that we have commitments from them to receive payment,” says Dilkens, noting it’s not in the 2020 budget to pick up the extra cost.

He adds it’s a federal program which allows temporary foreign workers to enter the country and healthcare is a provincial responsibility.

“And the problem exists in the County of Essex. This isn’t really a city issue but we have the expertise to deal with it, we’re willing to offer that expertise up to make sure the right solution is provided locally as long as we’re made whole by other levels of government who have ultimate responsibility for this.”

Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos believes upper levels of government will step in to fund the operation.

“As part of the ongoing pandemic planning and response efforts, our region gained significant value and experience from the EMAT,” says Santos. “As outbreaks have been managed successfully and protocols strongly engrained, our region is ready to carry on from this lead and can do so if the financial commitments from upper levels are retained.”

The isolation and recovery centre is currently being hosted at an undisclosed motel.