Toyota workers in Cambridge, Woodstock being told to self-isolate allowed to return to work

Some employees at the Toyota plants in Cambridge and Woodstock, who were deemed possible contacts of a COVID-19 case, were still allowed to go back into work.

Toyota says a third party was brought in to test employees, ended up testing positive, but that all health and safety protocols were in place and risk of transmission is low.

Southwestern Public Health confirms it is investigating COVID-19 exposures at the facilities in Cambridge and Woodstock.

Letters were given to employees, who are considered high risk close contacts, stating they must isolate until Apr. 8, but may continue to go to work and nowhere else.

They are also instructed to avoid close contact with anyone at work while isolating.

“The letter employees received provides specific directions on what is referred to as work self-isolation,” Southwestern Public Health said in a statement. “This is an option where contact management in some situations can be done safely.”

Public health says physical distancing, PPE use, heightened screening and testing, minimized risk related to travel to and from work, additional infection prevention and control measures for 14 days are measures that can be conducted for this option.

“Our team is working very closely with Toyota to ensure any of the identified contacts attending work are doing so safely using appropriate IPAC measures,” the statement reads in part. “Additional health and safety oversight is being provided by the health and safety team onsite.”

Toyota says more they've tested 80 per cent of employees who interacted with the tester, and all have tested negative so far.

They add that all health and safety protocols were in place and followed during the testing and that the risk of transmission is very low.

The health unit is not saying how many employees have been given the directive.

National president of Unifor Jerry Dias says he’s been contacted by a number of concerned workers from Toyota.

“150 of their coworkers have received letters from public health saying that they’re high risk,” he said. “What is even more concerning is that they’re being told to go to work.”

The directive is also causing confusion among experts like infectious disease epidemiologist Zahid Butt.

“I find it very surprising why they would do that,” he said. “It has to be a complete bubble where the person doesn’t really interact with anyone.”

Infections disease expert Gerald Evans adds persons deemed critical or essential like police or fire should be conduction a work isolation following a high risk exposure.

"In my opinion, a worker at an automotive plant would not and should not be deemed essential," he said. " Bottom line: it does not make sense."

Meanwhile Toyota employees are seeking clarification about what this means and how it works, as team lead Lee Sperduti says keeping distance at work is difficult.

“I do know that there’s some people, including myself, making calls to public health to see what kind of guidance they’re going to be giving to us and to see what their reasoning is behind stating that somebody can self-isolate while at work,” they said. “At this point there’s not a lot of information going to team members specifically about this incident.

“Team members, in my eyes anyway, are fairly confused with the directive from public health.”

Toyota adds that they continue to rapid test their workers, but now employees are self-administering tests under the supervision of a health care professional.