By Laura Keil

Northern Health Medical Health Officers are continuing to work with Trans Mountain to manage a growing cluster of COVID-19 cases among employees and contractors in the Valemount area.

As of August 20th, 32 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 in association with the cluster, and 24 of the cases are considered active. That number is double the number reported one week earlier, but Northern Health and Trans Mountain say the increase is not surprising.

“The increase in lab-confirmed cases is not unexpected, in light of increased screening and COVID-19 testing,” a joint press release between Northern Health and Trans Mountain said. “Case and contact management efforts continue to suggest the majority of infections were not acquired at the site. Public health continues to investigate any potential onsite transmission of illness, and may recommend additional measures to prevent further spread, if necessary.”

Northern Health and Trans Mountain have been monitoring the “cluster” since early August. Northern Health is not calling it an outbreak, saying the majority of cases were not acquired at the site.

Trans Mountain says the cases are both among workers living in-camp and in-community.

In a recent presentation to Valemount Council, a Trans Mountain spokesperson said the 600-bed worker accommodation camp is currently at capacity (40 beds are quarantine beds, so capacity is 560). Of the 1100 people employed on the project in Valemount, approx. 476 are non-locals residing in the community.

Immunization details among Trans Mountain workers were not available. Northern Health reported in mid-July that 75 per cent of residents age 12 and up in the Robson Valley have now been vaccinated with at least one dose.

“At this time we do not have statistics on the percentage of our workforce that is vaccinated,” a media spokesperson said.  “Trans Mountain is encouraging vaccination for all our workforce and have cooperated with provincial authorities to provide on-site clinics at our camp communities and worksites.”

There are currently 254 active cases in the Northern Health region. Northern Health is encouraging Trans Mountain staff and residents in the Valemount area to be aware that COVID-19 continues to circulate, and to take preventive measures such as frequent hand-washing, mask-wearing, and getting vaccinated at their earliest opportunity.

According to a statement, Trans Mountain has taken steps to reduce the chances of spread including enhanced employee screening, mandatory mask-wearing, and increased sanitization across the site and offering immunizations against COVID-19 to workers.