Fort McMurray records its 1st confirmed case of COVID-19

Fort McMurray has recorded its first case of COVID-19 and a nearby work camp is warning employees about a suspected case on-site.

Staff at work camp north of Fort McMurray warned of suspected case of coronavirus

Shown is the COVID-19 Assessment Centre in Ottawa. Fort McMurray says the municipality has its 1st confirmed case of the coronavirus. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Fort McMurray has recorded its first case of COVID-19 and a nearby work camp is warning employees about a suspected case on-site.

A dental office sent a notification to patients Thursday saying a staff member had tested positive for coronavirus.

The employee of Maxx Dental Group was present at the Pacific Dental Conference on March 5 to which at least seven of Alberta's coronavirus cases and several from B.C. have been linked.

The email said "no other staff have shown symptoms to date." 

While Alberta Health Services has not confirmed the case, Don Scott, mayor of the Regional Muncipality of Wood Buffalo, said it is treating the case as such. 

"We can't, as a municipality, sit around and wait for other levels of government to take steps. We know they're busy. We know they're overwhelmed." 

Scott said the owner of the dental group reached out to him directly. 

"He wishes that he could have done more and he's quite upset about this happening," Scott said. 

The email said that while Alberta Health advised the clinic it was allowed to continue taking emergency patients at the clinic, "we have decided to be pro-active and all of our team (including myself and my family) are going to self-isolate themselves for the remaining six days of the two-week wait period."

Brad McCoy, a dentist at Maxx Dental Group, acknowledged to CBC he sent the email.

The infected employee had already self-isolated after starting to feel ill, the email said.

"I cannot express how thankful I am [the employee] was responsible enough to remove [themselves] from the clinic and the community as soon as [they] felt symptoms begin," it said.

Suspected case at work camp

On Thursday, employees at the Borealis Lodge, a work camp about 30 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, received a a notice from Civeo, the company operating the camp, saying it had been warned about a "presumptive positive case of COVID-19" at the site. 

The notice said the company is awaiting the individual's test results, which should be available in four to six days. 

"Once the individual's test results are reported, we will provide additional details at that time," the notice said.

In a written statement Friday, Civeo said, "the individual had been screened prior to arriving at site and at that time "no symptoms were disclosed."

The company also clarified the use of the term "presumptive" in its notice to workers. 

"To be clear, this is a suspected case of COVID-19, not a presumptive positive. He has symptoms consistent with COVID-19, has been tested and we are awaiting results."

However once at the camp, the person started to show symptoms of COVID-19. 

Civeo isolated the individual following the onset of symptoms. The person was then taken to a hospital in Fort McMurray. 

The person was on site for 12 hours, "most of which was overnight in their quarters," Civeo said. 

Staff sanitized "all areas in which the individual was present or assumed present." 

Fort McKay excluding visitors

Fort McKay leadership announced Friday that no visitors will be allowed into the community.

"Checkpoints will be immediately set up; only community members, essential services and staff will be let in," according to a joint press release from the Fort McKay Métis Nation and Fort McKay First Nation.  

This follows Janvier, Alta., which began limiting access to the community Wednesday. 

State of local emergency declared

Scott declared a state of local emergency in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo effective of 4 p.m. Friday. 

"We are taking the COVID-19 response very seriously, and by declaring a State of Local Emergency, we are able to access additional resources to help prevent the spread and protect our community," Scott said in a press release. 

This gives the municipality access to additional resources and powers under the Emergency Management Act.

In an interview earlier in the day, the mayor urged community members to take care of one another. 

"Make sure that your neighbours are doing OK, not just physically, but mentally," Scott said.

Scott Davis, director of emergency management aid for Wood Buffalo, said "each industry has their own pandemic plan or continuity plan."

Davis said he has not been directly in contact with Civeo, but a staff member is reaching out to the company today. 

Camps exempt from 50 person gathering limit

Dr. Kristin Klein, medical officer of health for the north zone, said for confidentiality reasons she can only confirm that there are 10 cases of COVID-19 in the north zone, but can't say whether any are in Wood Buffalo or Fort McMurray. 

She said that, in general, "it's really important to emphasize that people that could develop COVID-19 symptoms or do have symptoms don't come out to the work camp in the first place."

Staff members have gone out to work camps to test people staying there, she said. 

"If we did have a case… those people have immediate follow-up from public health," said Klein. 

That would include gathering information on where the infected person was and contacting people who crossed paths with the infected person.

Klein said every effort would be made to "minimize the risk of spread of infection to others" if an infection at a camp was discovered. 

That includes isolating the infected person and making sure that they have their own room and bathroom. 

Klein said camps are currently exempt from the provincial guidelines restricting gatherings to 50 people.