Three workers in Alberta oilsands camp test positive for COVID-19: Hinshaw

Coronavirus outbreak: 3 workers at Imperial Oil camp test positive for COVID-19
WATCH ABOVE: Three people connected to Imperial Oil's Kearl Lake oilsands project north of Fort McMurray have tested positive for COVID-19. Fletcher Kent has the details.

A new COVID-19 outbreak has been reported at an oilsands work camp north of Fort McMurray, Alta.

On Wednesday, the chief medical officer of health said three people connected to the Kearl Lake oilsands project have tested positive for COVID-19.

“Six more individuals connected with the work camp were tested yesterday and are currently isolating,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.

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Hinshaw said the results of those tests are expected soon.

Alberta Health Services is continuing to work closely with the company to implement outbreak procedures at the site and to minimize any risk of transmissions.

Those procedures include cleaning, infection prevention, along with other guidelines for managers and operators at industrial work camps.

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Hinshaw stressed the importance of work camps mandating physical distancing, limiting gatherings and isolating any employee that shows symptoms of COVID-19.

“We have provided very specific guidance to work camps,” Hinshaw said.

Alberta’s top doctor stated the consequences of shutting down work camps would be “significant.”

“I thank the employees, managers, camp operators and employers for their continued diligence to keep these camps functional and contributing to Alberta’s economy positively during a very challenging time,” Hinshaw said.

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Oilsands have been deemed an essential service in the province.

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“It is very clear to the government that the operation of those plants is an essential service,” Premier Jason Kenney said. “But, at the same time, every possible protocol must be taken to ensure their safe operation.”

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Kenney said his government has been working with major oilsands producers and critical infrastructure companies to determine if they need help quarantining or additional personal protective equipment.

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“Simply shutting down those camps… it sounds a lot easier than it actually is,” Kenney said.

Kenney said closing down some plants could be devastating and could cause permanent damage to their reservoir while jeopardizing billions of dollars of assets critical to the Alberta economy.

COVID-19 outbreak reported at workcamp north of Fort McMurray, Alta.
COVID-19 outbreak reported at workcamp north of Fort McMurray, Alta.

In a statement to Global News on Wednesday, Imperial maintained that only one of its workers has the virus — not three.

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“We can currently confirm that one Imperial employee at the Kearl oil sands project in northeastern Alberta has tested positive for COVID-19,” said Imperial public affairs adviser Jon Harding.

“The employee reported symptoms last week and was immediately isolated at the camp, in accordance with Alberta Health Services guidelines.”

Harding said Imperial has been “actively taking precautions” over the past several weeks.

“We are following all AHS guidelines and undertaking contact tracing. Individuals who may have been in direct contact with affected individuals have been notified and asked to self-isolate at home,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Thursday that work camps are an area of particular vulnerability. She said she has had a number of conversations with Premier Jason Kenney since the onset of the pandemic about the “very thoughtful measures” the province and the industry are taking to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the work camps.

“Where the coronavirus does appear, we need to be very, very swift in containing it. And I will say that the province of Alberta, the provincial public health response has been very strong to date and I have every confidence it will continue to be.”

Since mid-March, Imperial said it has implemented daily screenings, social distancing, temperature monitoring and enhanced cleaning practices.

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According to the Kearl website, the oil sands mine is located 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, and is jointly owned by Imperial and ExxonMobil Canada.