Out-of-province workers demand consistency in Atlantic bubble isolation requirements

·3 min read

Two out-of-province workers from Nova Scotia are calling on the provincial government to adjust their current COVID-19 isolation requirements to match those of New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island.

"Given the number of cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick, it doesn't seem to be a harmful policy to allow workers who work out of province to not have the requirement to self-isolate," said John Mills, a land surveyor who works in northern Ontario.

In June, New Brunswick no longer required out-of-province workers to self-isolate and there are currently no known active cases in the province.

Workers returning to P.E.I. are required to self-isolate but if they test negative for COVID-19, they do not need to continue isolating.

But in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, out-of-province workers are required to isolate for the full 14 days.

"There's got to be consistency across the board ... I think that's a big deficiency in the whole Atlantic bubble," Mills said.

Mills lives with his wife and three children in Bedford, N.S. He works three consecutive weeks and then returns home for three weeks, allowing him to isolate in his home's basement apartment for 14 days and then spend a week with his family.

"Not only is it taking away from my quality of life, but my family's as well," he said. "That's really my biggest concern — how long is this going to carry on?"

Other families aren't as lucky.

David Alexander, who lives with his wife and two daughters in Windsor, N.S., works as a chef at an oil camp in northern Alberta.

He works two weeks straight and then returns home to his family for only eight days.

Submitted by David Alexander
Submitted by David Alexander

Those eight days are spent isolating as a family. They stock up on food and shut the doors, just to spend time together.

"It's a bit tough on us," he said. "Right now it's fine because it's summertime."

But Alexander said he's not sure what will happen when his two daughters go back to school in September.

He said he has two options: either stay at the camp in Alberta permanently or his family can take time away from work and school.

"I don't think it's really fair for [my wife] to take time off work, just so that I can be home," he said. "I see it being a big difficulty. Plus, I don't think it's really fair that the girls have to miss out on school."

'Not the only one in this situation'

Alexander and Mills said they follow strict rules while working at their respective sites to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Mills said his temperature is taken at least three times a day, physical distancing is required and masks are worn most of the time.

Still, Alexander said there are many out-of-province workers who can't see their families despite the strict measures.

"At the end of the day, I'm not the only one in this situation. I fly home regularly and that plane is filled with guys like myself," he said.

Not only is it taking away from my quality of life, but my family's as well. - John Mills

Both Mills and Alexander said they hope Premier Stephen McNeil will consider adopting similar rules to New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island, citing few cases within the Atlantic provinces even while out-of-province workers have been returning without isolating.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there only five active COVID-19 cases within the Atlantic bubble — two in Nova Scotia and three in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Heather Fairbairn, a spokesperson with the province, said Nova Scotians working outside the province still have to self-isolate upon returning, unless exempt under the public health order.

"People who regularly leave the province for work and return, such as Alberta oil workers, are allowed to return to Nova Scotia during their time off but must complete the self-isolation requirement," Fairbairn said in an emailed statement Tuesday.