Nfld. & Labrador

For N.L. workers on rotation outside Atlantic bubble, self-isolation is a cycle of frustration

"I think it's absolutely crazy on the mental health of all of us. It's bad enough we're away from our families," says Andy Matthews, a miner from St. John's who works in Nunavut.

'I've pretty much been in isolation since all this started," says St. John's miner who works in Nunavut

Andy Matthews works in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, and is a rotational worker from St. John's. He said he is fustrated by constant isolation cycles between trips to and from the province. (Submitted by Andy Matthews)

While public health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador say they hear the concerns of rotational workers, a worker from St. John's says more needs to be done to make sure people are taken care of.

Andy Matthews of St. John's says he is growing frustrated with cycles of constant self-isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which have pulled him apart from his family and affected his mental health.

"I've pretty much been in isolation since all this started," said Matthews, who works in a gold mine in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. "We're in quarantine at work for 14 days, and then I'm in quarantine again when I come home."

According to the province's COVID-19 isolation plan, rotational workers returning from provinces inside the Atlantic bubble and communities on the Labrador-Quebec border do not need to self-isolate upon their return. Those returning from other provinces must complete a 14-day isolation period, and are not allowed to enter public places such as grocery stores, shopping malls and banks, and are not allowed to visit family outside their household.

Due to the isolation, Matthews said, he has been able to see his son and girlfriend only once since the pandemic began, when he was granted an exemption to be part of a double bubble with them. However, he said, it has been challenging to see them again, as his son attends daycare and his girlfriend manages a long-term-care home.

"It's been hard, but my mother and father have been there for me, so I'm really grateful for that," he said. "Luckily I was able to hug [my son] the last time I was home, thank God. But before that, it [had] been a long time."

As the pandemic continues, Matthews said, the impact on rotational workers' mental health will continue to get worse.

"I think it's absolutely crazy on the mental health of all of us. It's bad enough we're away from our families. You want to be able to be free," he said.

"And right we're not free. We work our butts off, we come home and then we can't even leave our house. Yeah, we can go for a walk and we can do this, but everyone else is out enjoying their summer and we're cooped up in our homes because we travel for work."

Matthews said he was prepared to live for several months with a broken tooth because he didn't know who he could turn to in isolation. (Submitted by Andy Matthews)

Matthews said some rotational workers may also be feeling physical effects of isolation as they might not know who they can turn to if they need help with things like therapy. After breaking a tooth while in isolation, he said he was fully prepared to live with it for several months.

"I was dead set on thinking, 'OK, I'm gonna have a broken tooth for the next however long," he said. "Fortunately, my mom had sent an email to [the Department of Health], and they got back right away and exempted me to break isolation to get my tooth fixed."

"Look at how many people are going to be ignoring symptoms or whatever's going on with their body, just because it's not normal anymore to just go into an emergency room," he added. "And especially us as rotational workers, we can't go in at all."

It's not just Newfoundlanders that are fed up, it's everyone around us. Like why Newfoundland?- Andy Matthews

Matthews said moving to another province for work would be tough for him, as he would be separated from his son. He added that the province needs a better plan for rotational workers.

"I'd like to see government actually come up with a decent plan," he said. "The start of the plan ideally would be [to] swab us when we get there. If they can swab me going to work, why can't they swab me when I come home? I'm not all about the border being opened up or anything, but at least [they should] take care of their own people."

Update coming in the coming days, Fitzgerald

During Wednesday's COVID-19 media briefing, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said concerns from rotational workers have been heard by the province's public health officials.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald is Newfoundland and Labrador's Chief Medical Officer of Health. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

"We all need to remember that these workers are their families have endured hardship, and sacrificed much over the past six months to provide for their families, and to keep our province safe while doing so," she said.

"I want these workers to know that we hear you, and we have been working diligently to find a way to safely and significantly reduce these restrictions."

Fitzgerald said she couldn't give an exact timeline of when any announcement for rotational workers would be made, but hopes the information can be shared in the coming days.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Peter Cowan