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COVID-19: Industrial work camps operating under specific guidelines

Cathy Ulrich
Northern Health CEO Cathy Ulrich

With work camps dotting the North from Site C to Kitimat, physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is definitely a challenge.

Northern Health’s health and development office and medical health officers developed health and safety plans specific to work camps before COVID-19 started. Now things are ramping up.

“When this situation emerged, those guidelines were enhanced to focus on COVID-19,” said Cathy Ulrich, Northern Health CEO.

Those enhanced guidelines have been accepted by the BC Centre for Disease Control and the provincial Health Officer’s office and are posted on the BC Centre for Disease Control website.

The medical health officers have been working with industries to implement those guidelines, she said. Other ministries, such as Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources are working with industries as well.

The guidelines provide information on how camps can enact the provincial recommendations on issues including physical distancing, hygiene, and food preparation.

“There’s also information on what do to if there’s a suspected or confirmed case in a camp, including protocols related to screening, testing, self-monitoring, self-isolation, and reporting,” said Dr. Raini Fumerton, interim Chief Medical Health Officer for Northern Health.

There is a section on how to inspect supplies at the site.

One of the issues around work camps is that workers come from other areas, often out of province, to work and are not being quarantined when they arrive.

“We’re working closely with (projects) to ensure they are in compliance with all the provincial health recommendations and order,” said Fumerton. “There’s certainly no restriction on inter-provincial travel into British Columbia at this time. The goal of all the significant and expensive public health measures that are being put into place, it is not the end goal to stop this virus from spreading completely. That is absolutely impossible.  We are trying flatten the curve so we do not end up in a situation where our health system is overwhelmed … We have industrial camps in the north, we recognize that this is not a zero-risk situation. It’s not a zero-risk situation close down a dam or a mine or an LNG site.”

Companies are scaling back, she said, adding that part of the guidelines is that people working in camps remain in camps and not visit local communities on their downtime.

“What I’m interested in is that they are implementing all the measures,” she said.

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