Inside the tar sands site that saw the largest COVID-19 workplace outbreak in Canada – fr

Inside the tar sands site that saw the largest COVID-19 workplace outbreak in Canada – fr

When a Calgary tar sands contractor – whom Global News agreed not to identify in order to protect his job – accepted a job last month at the Canadian Natural Resources Horizon Oil Sands job site, he knew he there was a chance he could get sick.

“A lot of guys were like, ‘I’m not going up there, they’re taking samples and a lot of guys are getting sick.’ That’s the story I heard up there, but the money was good and I was like, ‘well, I’m just going to be careful.’

The 65-year-old was one of thousands of tradespeople brought in by CNRL to perform site maintenance, a period known in the industry as the “shutdown” or “turnaround”.

Two weeks after arriving at the camp, the Calgary worker contracted COVID-19.

“All I did was eat, sleep, work 13 hour shifts,” he said.

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“I know I have it there.

The worker was transferred to an on-site isolation room where he says he began to experience flu-like symptoms, including fever. He said being sick and alone was scary.

“I was scared, yeah… the thing is dying on its own, no one to say goodbye to or nothing like that.” It was scary; I thought I was done.

Read more:

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The contractor eventually recovered enough to make the seven-hour trip home to Calgary, but according to the company and Alberta Health, two CNRL Horizon contractors have died.

CNRL (Canadian Natural Resources Limited) Horizon oil sands mine near Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Larry MacDougal, The Canadian Press

The outbreak at CNRL Horizon currently stands at 1,361 cases, making it the largest workplace outbreak in the country since the start of the pandemic.

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The outbreak was first declared in October, but according to a series of employee notes obtained by Global News, cases began to rise in April after the company’s scheduled maintenance period began.

From the maintenance period, the weekly notes note that there was, “… a peak workforce of 5,000 workers above our normal daily average”, and that on April 1, there had been 258 cases of COVID-19 at the site since the fall.

In an April 8 email, 44 new cases were reported. On April 16, there were 84 more. As of April 23, 193 more cases were reported, while the April 30 memo listed 268.

Another 219 cases were noted in a note dated May 6. Alberta Health says there have been at least 268 positive cases linked to the CNRL Horizon site since then.

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“Our members are scared,” said Alberta Federation of Labor president Gil McGowan.

“They said to me and to their leaders in their respective unions, yes they want to work – but they want to work in safe conditions, and as it is now, the conditions are not safe in the most if not all of the tar sands. related construction projects. “

McGowan is calling on the province to shut down work sites that are experiencing large COVID-19 outbreaks, but Alberta’s United Conservative government has deemed the oil sands yards and their support work camps essential.

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A spokesperson for Alberta Health said the province was working with the company to manage the outbreak.

“Alberta Health Services has started offering on-site immunization clinics at camps and industrial sites in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. The first site to complete was CNRL Horizon, ”Tom McMillan said in an email to Global News.

“Over 136,000 rapid tests have been provided to CNRL for its two sites to help detect COVID-19 and protect workers.”

CNRL (Canadian Natural Resources Limited) Horizon Oil Sands Upgrading Plant near Fort McMurray, Alta.

Images from the Canadian press / Larry MacDougal

“What we’re seeing, unfortunately, is the impact of some of the worrisome variants,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer of Health for Alberta.

“As in many other places in the province, we have seen an increase in transmission when variants of concern are introduced, we are also seeing this impact at these sites.”

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“Through vaccination, rapid testing and outbreak control measures, we expect these outbreaks to be under control in the near future.”

Alberta Health Services said it last inspected CNRL Horizon on March 16, to conduct an assessment before the turnaround.

“Some of the general items identified included a need for more signage around hand hygiene and better access to hand sanitizer at this site, additional controls to encourage physical distancing at airfields and in trailers and a request for additional cleaning supplies available in the trailers, ”AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said in an email to Global News.

“Concerns identified during site visits are followed up by AHS Environmental Public Health. No follow-up visits were made in April 2021, but regular consultation with the site continues. “

Read more:

Suncor Delays Scheduled Maintenance Project Amid COVID-19 Cases in Fort McMurray Area

CNRL Horizon’s turnaround is now complete and on-site staffing is returning to normal levels.

Last week, Suncor Energy Inc announced that it was postponing a planned maintenance shutdown at its base plant oil sands mine upgrader due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, but McGowan says other maintenance projects are moving forward.

“As it stands, approximately 10,000 construction workers are currently involved in the various projects and living in camps far from any city, including Fort McMurray.

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AHS says there are currently 43 COVID-19 patients at the Northern Lights Regional Health Center in Fort McMurray, including 10 in the ICU. The regional hospital had to expand its intensive care unit to seven patients to meet the increased demand.

Global News has reached out to CNRL for comment on this story, but no response has been received at the time of publication.

Click to play video: `` COVID-19 vaccination campaign underway in hard-hit Alberta oil sands ''

COVID-19 vaccination campaign underway in hard-hit Alberta oil sands

COVID-19 vaccination campaign underway in hard-hit Alberta oil sands

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