Red Cross to help Baffinland contact-trace COVID-19 outbreak
Aim is to help curb spread of highly contagious Delta variant in southern Canada
Updated on June 21, 2021 at 9:30 a.m.
The Canadian Red Cross is helping Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. with contact tracing the COVID-19 outbreak at its Mary River, as cases connected to the outbreak continue to crop up in the south.
In late May, the Nunavut government asked for help with contact tracing the mine’s outbreak, said Red Cross spokesperson Jason Small in an interview with Nunatsiaq News.
Working remotely from their stations across the country, “[Red Cross employees] will be doing contact tracing of employees from the mine who left the mine area in Nunavut and are back in southern Canada,” Small said.
Baffinland announced its first COVID-19 case of the outbreak on April 30 and shut down the Mary River mine less than a week later.
During that time, at least 115 of the mine’s workers returned to Ontario and Quebec, wrote Department of Health spokesperson Danarae Sommerville in an email to Nunatsiaq News.
It was later announced that the Delta variant, which has since been labelled a variant of concern by the Public Health Agency of Canada, was one of the strains that caused the outbreak at the mine, Sommerville said.
The Delta variant is about 50 per cent more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain.
And when workers were sent home, they brought it with them. A recent article in the Toronto Star describes how these mine workers helped spread the Delta variant across Canada.
The mine reopened on May 28 but has been operating at a reduced capacity since then and has had no new cases since May 29, said Baffinland spokesperson Heather Smiles in an email to Nunatsiaq News, but the outbreak is not yet declared over.
Around that same time, the company got permission to begin vaccinating workers on-site, Smiles said.
“We have also partnered with a southern medical team to ensure vaccinations are available to any site-based worker who wishes to receive them before travelling to the mine,” she said.
It’s not clear what percentage of workers on or off site have either one or two doses, as Smiles said that is their employee’s personal medical information.
The Health Department, however, confirmed that since June 15, around 300 people received a vaccine, Sommerville said.
Mike Gallagher, business manager of International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 793, which represents Baffinland workers, said the company isn’t to blame for the outbreak, and that all the safety measures on-site has lifted the morale of workers.
“As a union leader I have had to make decisions without any playbook and I’m sure that uncertainty applies to government, companies and non-profit organizations equally,” he wrote in an email to Nunatsiaq News.
“I believe they are doing their best in an unprecedented situation as we are as well.”
Gallagher said there are about 400 union members on site, which is a typical rotation. He said he encourages all of the union’s members to get vaccinated.
“I believe it’s our only path out of this pandemic,” he said.
Sommerville said there continues to be no risk to Nunavut communities, as the workers who were infected were “transferred in designated chartered aircraft that flew non-stop from the Mary River airport to southern jurisdictions.”
Correction: This article was updated from a previous version to accurately reflect the source for the number of workers who received a vaccine at the mine site and to correct the spelling of a Health Department spokesperson’s name.