By Patrick Meagher
WINCHESTER — A retired Winchester-area dairy farmer was hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19, amidst an outbreak of positive cases in farm country.
While the vast majority of people who test positive to COVID-19 have few or no symptoms, Peter Verspeek, in his late-50s, was taken to hospital on about March 27 within about five days after being tested. Those who know him say that he has underlying health conditions, which increases his risk of complications from the virus.
Verspeek is a long-time dairy farmer who sold his cows and quota last year.
There were just two active COVID cases in the small township of North Dundas on March 1. That jumped to 31 cases by April 1. Prior to March there had only been 62 positive cases in the townhip in total for the previous 11 months.
Positive COVID test results have also affected Winchester’s Jaquemet farm family.
Custom operator Tim Jaquemet said 15 members of his family tested positive to COVID-19 after attending his father Pierre’s birthday party on March 14. “I had a pretty good cough and no energy. My dad and mom were the same way, just dragging our feet,” Jaquemet said. He added that his wife and five kids (from just months old to age 7) tested positive but had no symptoms. His 86-year-old grandmother was at the birthday gathering and tested negative, he said. “She’s a tough cookie.”
Jaquemet said that extended family picked up supplies for the family and dropped them on their porch while they were in 14-day quarantine that ended at midnight on March 28. He added that he thinks a brother might have contracted COVID-19 while shopping at Costco.
East of Winchester, North Dundas Building Supplies closed for three days after one employee tested positive with COVID-19. Store manager Stacy Duguay said the store re- opened on Saturday, March 26.
There have been enough positive tests in the area that some farmers have sent their hired workers home out of fear that they might bring the virus to the farm. Some dairy farmers fear taking the COVID test because they don’t want to have to self-isolate and worry that the milk truck won’t stop at the farm while in quarantine.
Dundas County dairy director Nick Thurler assured that the milk truck will still stop at the farm if you test positive. But if you test positive “the farmer is not supposed to be in the milk house when the milk truck driver comes,” he said, adding that “you don’t have to worry about getting COVID from stainless steel . It’s business as usual.”
Osgoode dairy farmer Steve Velthuis said he has heard of numerous local cases and was exposed to a positive-tested person. To protect his own family and employees, Velthuis said it was important to get tested. His results were negative. He did a follow-up test a week later.
He added that people don’t realize that if a farm worker tests positive he can’t come to work and it’s already hard to get help on the farm. But if Velthuis or a family member were to test positive they would still have to go to work or they won’t be producing any milk, he said. “If farmers are essential workers we should start thinking about getting them a vaccine,” he said. “At the end of the day our thoughts and prayers go out to Peter (Verspeek).”