Fort McMurray mayor says “time to act decisively” to keep COVID-19 away

Fort McMurray mayor says "time to act decisively" to keep COVID-19 away

The mayor of Fort McMurray says the city of northeast Alberta and surrounding communities are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 because tens of thousands of workers come from across Canada to work in the oil sands.

Don Scott proposed several aggressive measures to respond to the pandemic at a virtual city council meeting on Tuesday, including an order to keep residents at home, except to access essential services. Councilors voted against the debate on his motion.

“I prefer to be accused of doing too much than not enough,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “Now is the time to act decisively.”

Oil sands operators rely on workers from across the country to go to the sites and stay there for days or weeks at a time.

The 2018 census of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo declared that its ghost population was nearly 37,000 out of a total number of nearly 112,000 people.

Scott has long criticized construction sites in the industry, saying they are not conducive to building a “sustainable community”.

A transport truck carrying a full load leaves a mining shovel at the Shell Albian Sands oil sands mine near Fort McMurray, Alberta. (Jeff McIntosh / Canadian Press)

The mayor said he was glad the industry was taking tough action against the virus, but his motion asked for assurances that the camps only allow essential workers.

Wood Buffalo has two confirmed cases of COVID-19. Scott said he was concerned that outside workers are bringing more cases to the area “and that the hospital and the local community must respond.”

Scott Davis, Director of Emergency Management at Wood Buffalo, said he had daily calls to Alberta health services and was comfortable that the Fort McMurray hospital was well prepared .

“I didn’t hear any concerns from them. I understand they are doing well.”

Davis said that completely closing the labor camps is not an option.

“They provide essential jobs in northern Alberta … Oil is a critical need.”

Oil sands camps and lodges

Last Friday, a worker from Borealis Lodge, near the Suncor Energy base mine, was taken to hospital with COVID-19 symptoms. The lodge operator, Civeo Corp., said on Tuesday that the test was negative.

Ian Robb, Canadian director of the Unite Here hotel industry union, said Civeo and other labor camp operators took the threat seriously.

“Their protocols and readiness were put to the test that day,” said Robb, also administrator of Unite Here Local 47, who represents cleaners and cooks at the labor camps. Alberta.

“It was about perfect.”

Housing projects for the Suncor Firebag in situ oil sands workers camp near Fort McMurray, Alberta, September 17, 2014. (Todd Korol / Reuters)

Companies have sent non-essential staff home, but some allow workers who don’t want to risk going to lodges on their days off, Robb said.

He said that lodges generally have private rooms, but special attention is paid to common areas such as the dining rooms, where staff work 10 hours a day for disinfection.

He said that as soon as the Borealis worker fell ill, the dining room was closed and resanitized. Dinner was served to take away.

Trevor Haynes, CEO of worker accommodation provider Black Diamond Group, said preventing the spread of the disease has always been a priority.

“The ability of a virus of any type to pass through this population is a constant concern and threat. Even with non-life-threatening problems like the common cold, it can affect the entire community if you don’t take it no guard, “he said. .

“This current environment obviously takes this to a different level.”

Cleaning is more frequent, cleaning products have been improved and more hand disinfection stations have been installed. Food is no longer served buffet style.

Anyone who becomes ill can isolate themselves in their room and those in neighboring areas can be moved.

The company is not active in the oil sands, but serves workers in the mines, natural gas, pipelines, utilities and forestry.

Latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic from Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatchewan. 15:54

Haynes said the camps must continue to operate.

“Often what the people who stay at our facilities do is related to maintaining the infrastructure and operating remote communities.”

Diversified Transportation, which transports workers to oil sands sites, said it closed toilets, provided more sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer, stepped up cleaning and carried fewer passengers so they could sit further.

Earlier this month, a Canadian North aircraft bound for the oil sands returned to Edmonton because a crew member heard that a family member had tested positive for COVID-19.

Communications chief Kelly Lewis said Canadian North had started following the emerging threat from COVID-19 in January and had formed a committee to prepare.

Blankets, pillows and magazines on board were taken away. Frequently touched surfaces are sprayed with a bleaching solution.

Workers traveling to or from sites present paper boarding passes instead of reusable plastic cards. Passengers are as far apart as possible.

“We provide them with a critical operational role,” said Lewis. “What we are doing cannot stop now.”

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