Manitoba Hydro testing all workers at Keeyask dam for COVID-19 after 1 tests positive, 2nd presumed positive

Manitoba Hydro will test its entire workforce at the Keeyask Hydroelectric Project in northern Manitoba for COVID-19, a spokesperson said Wednesday, after the utility confirmed an employee tested positive earlier this week.

Hydro has already started testing the roughly 760 workers at the site “out of an abundance of caution,” spokesperson Bruce Owen in an email on Wednesday.

All incoming workers arriving at the site going forward will also be tested prior to arrival, he said, except for those driving in from northern Manitoba, who will be tested at the site roughly 710 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

“The safety of staff and local communities remains a top priority,” Owen wrote. “This plan has been developed and continually updated based on the changing COVID situation and with guidance from public health officials.”

On top of testing, the utility on Tuesday halted daily commuting to and from the site and nearby Gillam, Man., and weekend visits to Thompson, Man., or other locations, Owen said. The site also closed its theatre, lounge and gym facilities.

The moves come after Manitoba Hydro confirmed on Tuesday one employee had tested positive for COVID-19.

A second worker at the site is now also considered a “presumed positive” case, Owen confirmed Wednesday. The worker is a close contact of the first person to test positive, Owen said.

The individual’s result came back as “not clear” from private lab Intrinsic, which the Keeyask site uses as for screening testing of workers, Owen said. That result will be sent to Manitoba’s Cadham Provincial Laboratory to be confirmed. In the meantime, contact tracing for that individual is ongoing and close contacts are being isolated.

All close contacts of the first worker have already been tested, he added.

Hydro shares concerns of neighbours: spokesperson

On Tuesday, the chief of nearby Tataskweyak Cree Nation called on Hydro to halt movement in and out of Keeyask until every worker is tested.

Chief Doreen Spence told CBC News the community is not allowing members who work at Keeyask to return until they’ve been tested. Spence said the community is not prepared for COVID-19 cases and doesn’t have spaces for isolation.

Hydro shares concerns about COVID-19 entering nearby communities, Owen said in the statement Wednesday. The Crown corporation has offered to support self-isolation of local residents before they return home when their rotations end and is working with Spence directly, he said.

Earlier this year, members of Tataskweyak as well as neighbouring Fox Lake Cree Nation, War Lake First Nation and York Factory Cree Nation objected to a shift change involving hundreds of staff at the Keeyask site.

Members of Tataskweyak Cree Nation and Fox Lake Cree Nation set up road blockades to prevent the shift change before all four communities reached a deal with Hydro.