A local legal aid service worries that the hefty financial consequence of a new order being imposed by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit next month will harm people of low income.
On Thursday, Windsor-Essex’s medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said the health unit is issuing a new order, effective Feb. 1, that involves a $5,000 fine for anyone breaking COVID-19 isolation requirements.
The order applies to anyone in Windsor-Essex with COVID-19, anyone symptomatic and awaiting test results, anyone identified as a close contact and anyone with symptoms or reason to believe they may have the disease.
But the charges associated with the order are likely to add more stress and pressure to a population that’s already struggling to make ends meet, according to the executive director of Legal Assistance Windsor Mario Overholt.
Overholt told CBC News that she’s worried about low income communities being disproportionately targeted, due to their work and living situations.
“I worry about the sanctions that are being imposed,” she said. “For people who are low income and their housing is precarious and their employment is precarious they are also facing other financial sanctions.”
She said people in these communities may not have sick days or will fear that they’re going to be fired if they don’t attend work. She added that it also may be hard to isolate if they share a living space with others.
“I totally understand why we want to encourage people to follow these guidelines, but I think in the exercise of the enforcement, there has to be some discretion so that we don’t place people who are already under a burden, under a greater burden,” Overholt said.
Not only that but she said it’s important to recognize that diverse groups may not fully understand all of the rules or technical terms.
“It’s complicated, right? So when do you quarantine? Is that different from self-isolation? What’s a close contact?'” she said.
“If you don’t have a working knowledge of that, if English isn’t your first language, if there’s some difficulty, then you’re going to rely on your own understanding and perhaps it’s not accurate … I hope that [the health unit] focuses their energies on supporting people and not seeking out people to penalize.”
And while Ahmed said he realizes the impact this can have on people, he said there are supports available by all levels of government that can help.
“Of course that is why it’s important that everyone is aware of the kinds of supports that are out there. There are many supports that are currently available for people who don’t have employer offered financial assistance or vacation time,” he said.
“I think there’s been lots of conversation and advocacy effort being done to alleviate those concerns.”
In an email to CBC News, the health unit listed financial supports locals could access, including those provided by the federal government, such as employment insurance, ones from the province and local supports from the City of Windsor.
But Overholt said she doesn’t think adequate support is available, at least not like there was in the last lockdown.
“I don’t think people feel supported and I don’t think they believe they have viable alternatives,” she said.