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Wood Buffalo declares state of emergency as oilsands sites added to AHS outbreak list

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo has declared a state of emergency due to the increasing cases of COVID-19. Several oilsands sites within the region are on Alberta's COVID-19 outbreak list.
Several oilsands sites are now on Alberta's COVID-19 outbreak list.

LAKELAND - The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo has declared a state of emergency due to the increasing cases of COVID-19.

As of Friday, the region had 1,283 active cases with outbreaks declared at oilsands sites within the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo; three CNRL, four Suncor, one Cenovus, and two Syncrude.

Reg Curren, senior advisor for media and issues management with Cenovus Energy said, "Alberta Health Services (AHS) currently lists two of our sites as having cases: Cenovus Foster Creek, Cold Lake; Cenovus Sunrise Lodge, Fort Mckay."

Curren stressed that despite the cases in their sites, a number the company won't confirm, they continue to operate "safely and efficiently."

"Through our experience of over the past year we have developed robust procedures to address the challenges brought about by COVID-19 and continue to follow all of those protocols as outlined by the regional health authorities across our operating areas to ensure worker health and safety," Curren said in an email.   

He continued, "We’re also concerned about the safety and well-being of the communities in which we operate and are closely monitoring the situation. The Oil Sands Community Alliance (OSCA) is working with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to understand how industry can best support them during this third wave. OSCA is also working with the Athabasca Tribal Council and other regional stakeholders to see how they can be supported."

Lisa Schmidt, media relations for public and government affairs with Imperial Oil said there are currently four active cases at their Kearl operation.

"These individuals have been in isolation since the onset of symptoms. Our thoughts are with these individuals and hope they make a full recovery," she explained in an email. 

 Premier Jason Kenney announced April 28 the provincial government's intentions to send additional vaccines to the Wood Buffalo region.

“We certainly share the concern of the municipal government in Wood Buffalo about the high numbers they’re experiencing, which is imposing real pressure on the Fort McMurray hospital," he said during a media conference on April 26. “We are happy to work with them on additional measures, including providing greater vaccine supply."

“I would point out that Fort McMurray and the broader Wood Buffalo are significantly below the province-wide average for immunizations to-date. I think what there appears to be, in part, a bit of a demand problem, but also we need to make sure, there are a lot of shift workers up there, that they’re able to get to the vaccines when they’re not working,” he added.

In response to the news that additional vaccine doses were coming their way, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott said in a statement, “I’d like to thank Premier Kenney, Minister Shandro and the Government of Alberta for listening to our concerns, allocating additional vaccines and making adjustments to eligibility guidelines for our region. I’d also like to thank Indigenous leadership for championing this issue and pushing our situation to the forefront for the betterment of all our people."

He continued, “This is a step in the right direction, but there is still much progress to be made. Our region continues to see rapid growth of cases and the vaccine is just one part of the solution. Everyone has a role to play and must continue to follow all public health guidelines to help keep our communities safe.”

Schmidt agreed that employee health and safety remains a priority.

"Our focus continues to be on the health and safety of our workforce and communities and we are maintaining our strict site protocols to prevent the risk of spread of COVID-19. We continue to follow all government and health authority guidance and have also implemented rapid testing for workers before travelling to the Kearl site."

The municipality entered a state of emergency on April 26 due to a spike in COVID-19 and variant cases over the previous 30 days.

In order to prevent the further spread of the virus within their sites, Cenovus has protocols in place including enhanced cleaning and sanitization measures, physical distancing, mask wearing, daily health screening, and detailed COVID-19 rapid response plans.

AHS considers two confirmed cases at a worksite as an outbreak. 

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