COVID-19 outbreak in Kearl Lake after three workers tested positive, six in quarantine

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The province has declared an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Kearl Lake site at Imperial Oil, located 70 kilometers north of Fort McMurray. This is the first confirmed case of a virus in an oil sands labor camp.

Three people tested positive for COVID-19, with at least one confirmed worker in an intensive care unit. Six other workers are tested and remain in quarantine. The workers’ hometown was not named.

In Alberta there are 1,996 cases. There are 44 patients in the hospital, including 10 in the intensive care units. Alberta did not report any new deaths during Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing, bringing the death toll to 48.

These figures are preliminary as an outage at AHS has shut down the provincial lab’s data flow, said Dr. Deena Hinshaw. Data flow should be restarted by Thursday’s update.

Mayor Don Scott, who called the labor camps “fertile ground for a virus” in an interview in March, said in a statement that he was concerned about the epidemic. However, he was pleased that the location of the epidemic had been made public.

“We have called for more transparent and detailed information about the cases in our region,” he said. “The disclosure of these cases is a step in the right direction.”

Scott Davis, the city’s director of emergency management, said local cases are likely to increase as the province expands its testing capabilities.

“I understand that the news of a COVID-19 outbreak in Kearl Lake is troubling to hear – but I want to assure you that we are well positioned as a region to deal with these cases,” he said. “Each of us has a role to play in monitoring public health and smoothing the curve.”

Prime Minister Jason Kenney said at a COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday that closing suburban camps was not an option during the pandemic. Many SAGD sites keep all of their workers in the camps, he said, and have equipment that needs to be maintained regularly.

The withdrawal of personnel and the closure of the camps could cause permanent damage to the site and could “endanger billions of dollars of assets which are absolutely essential to the economy of the province”.

“This is not something we can take lightly,” he said. “Closing SAGD projects could be devastating for years to come.”

Thousands of workers remain in labor camps

The Alberta government already required that oil sands operators and camps have pandemic response plans. However, an epidemic of COVID-19 in the suburban workforce has been a concern for local industry groups and politicians since the start of the pandemic.

The 2018 census by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo shows that the region is home to 109 temporary worker camps from across Canada.

The census recorded more than 33,000 temporary workers living in camps for at least 30 days a year. More than 27,000 workers remain within a 70 km radius of Fort McMurray.

In Fort McMurray, more than 3,500 commuters live in apartments, guest rooms and hotels.

Civeo Corp. Houston-based was already scared when she tested a possible case in late March. The test returned negative for the worker.

Meanwhile, companies have taken additional precautions to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. These include temperature controls, amazing flights and bus transportation, increased cleaning and the addition of additional hand sanitizers. The leisure areas have closed and the cafeterias have spaced out lounge areas.

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