Bylands Nurseries Ltd. made its own public statement Wednesday in the wake of Tuesday’s Interior Health announcement that there is an outbreak of COVID-19 among a group of farm workers employed by the West Kelowna business.
“As a family-owned and operated business, we feel a strong connection to our community, staff, suppliers and customers we proudly serve and are working to ensure the health and safety of all those,” said an emailed statement by Maria Byland on behalf of the family and its businesses.
“We thank you all for your support during this time, which is very difficult for all members of the community.”
The letter was addressed to “dear friends of Bylands Garden Centre.”
On Tuesday, Interior Health confirmed 14 farm workers employed by Bylands had tested positive for COVID-19. The positive tests came from a group that includes 63 Mexicans and 12 local workers.
The entire group is being quarantined for 14 days in homes and trailers on Bylands property.
The Bylands complex at Byland Road and Highway 97 is large with two main components: greenhouses and outdoor plantings and an indoor-outdoor garden centre store.
Maria Byland stressed in her statement that the COVID-19 outbreak involves Bylands Nurseries, the greenhouse and outdoor areas where the Mexicans worked, not the separate Bylands Garden Centre.
The garden centre is not affected by the novel coronavirus outbreak, echoed Interior Health.
Interior Health has expressed confidence the risk of exposure to the public is low.
“None of the workers were in roles that interact with customers and members of this group had very minimal contact in the community,” said an Interior Health news release.
The garden centre has been closed to the public for in-store shopping since March 20.
However, customers were able to order and pay online and then pick up plants and merchandise curbside until Tuesday.
“This investigation does not include Bylands Garden Centre. However, we want to ensure we are responding proactively,” said Byland. “Effective immediately, we have decided to close (the garden centre completely). This is a dynamic situation, and we will continue to respond appropriately as new information is made available.”
Interior Health said Bylands has co-operated fully throughout the entire process.
Under order of Interior Health, Bylands Nurseries and Garden Centre has extensively cleaned all nursery, housing and other facilities used or accessed by employees.
Additional test results on other workers at Bylands have yet to come in.
All workers with symptoms of the disease — sore throat, cough, fever and difficulty breathing — are doing well right now.
The worker housing is good, according to Interior Health, and provides enough space for the workers to be held in 14-day mandatory quarantine.
If the sick workers don’t require hospitalization or other specialized health care, the quarantine can be served at the employee housing.
The Interior Health medical health officer can decide on a different course for individual or group quarantines or treatment if necessary.
Most of the 4,500 foreign agricultural workers who come to the Okanagan seasonally every year are from Mexico and the Caribbean.
Bylands has hired and housed workers from Mexico for years as seasonal labour.
The workers with COVID-19 may be linked to a group of foreign farm workers who arrived in Kelowna on March 12.
If that’s the case, March 12 was before the federal government recommended voluntary 14-day quarantine for anyone entering Canada from another country.
The voluntary quarantine suggestion took effect March 14.
The voluntary quarantine order was upgraded March 25 to a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving in Canada from another country.