Fort McMurray mayor says it’s ‘time to act decisively’ on keeping COVID-19 away

The mayor of Fort McMurray said the northeastern Alberta city and surrounding communities are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because tens of thousands of workers travel from across Canada to work in the oilsands.

Don Scott proposed several aggressive measures to respond to the pandemic during a virtual city council meeting on Tuesday, including an order that residents stay in their homes except to access essential services.

Councillors voted against debating his motion.

“I’d rather be accused of doing too much than too little,” Scott said in an interview Wednesday.

“This is the time to act decisively.”

Oilsands operators rely on workers from across the country who fly to sites and stay there for several days or weeks at a time.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s 2018 census said its shadow population was nearly 37,000 out of an overall head count of nearly 112,000.

Scott has long been critical of industry work camps, saying they are not conducive to building a “sustainable community.”

The mayor said he’s pleased industry is taking rigid measures against the virus, but his motion called for assurances that camps are only allowing essential workers.

Wood Buffalo has one confirmed case of COVID-19.

Scott said he’s worried about outside workers bringing more cases into the region “and then the hospital and the local community is the one that has to react to it.”

Scott Davis, Wood Buffalo’s director of emergency management, said he’s had daily calls with Alberta Health Services and he’s comfortable Fort McMurray’s hospital is well prepared.

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“I haven’t heard anything of concern from them whatsoever. My understanding is they’re coping well.”

Davis said shutting down work camps all together is not an option.

“They do provide critical employment in northern Alberta … Oil is a critical need.”

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