Rotational workers ask for rapid testing to reduce isolation time

·3 min read

Rotational workers are calling on the province to offer rapid COVID-19 tests to cut down on the time they have to spend self-isolating when they return home.

Last Friday the province announced it would require all rotational workers who travel outside of New Brunswick to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to the province.

Previously, they'd been offered the chance to reduce their isolation period if they tested negative for COVID-19 partway through the two weeks.

Michael Pelletier, a Kingsclear resident who flies back and forth to work in Alberta, wants to see the province roll out a COVID-19 rapid testing program so that he can spend less time isolating, and more time with his family.

"Why not ask us [if we want to take a test] once we get off the plane? Give us the rapid testing," Pelletier said, in an interview Friday.

With the current rules, he said he's effectively separated from his wife and children, as he's required to self-isolate in a separate part of his home for the entire duration of his time in New Brunswick. Otherwise, his family would have to self-isolate with him.

"[My] kids want to see their their dad... and the government has made it absolutely impossible for us to do that. They haven't offered any sensible solution to make that happen."

In an interview about the province's fight against COVID-19 on Friday morning, Premier Blaine Higgs said New Brunswick Public Health is looking into whether rapid testing could help reduce isolation time for rotational workers.

However, he stressed his concern over the spread of the United Kingdom variant of COVID-19, which has been identified in four separate cases in New Brunswick as of Friday.

"This phase with rotational workers, yes, it's tight, but I'd like to think that — give us a couple of weeks to months so we know what's happening here, because this has to get to be a bearable process for us," Higgs said.

"But the variant is a major concern."

Submitted/Amanda Baxter
Submitted/Amanda Baxter

Amanda Baxter of Sussex also travels to Alberta to work as a first responder on a rotational basis.

She said the province should implement a regime that lets her take a COVID-19 rapid test after a few days of self-isolating when she returns, so she can spend time with family if the result is negative.

"I think an appropriate rule would be 'Come in, self-isolate for five to seven days, get tested, and then if it's negative, then you can go out in public and see your... friends and family, if you need to, on a reasonable basis," she said.

Justifying the new rule

If the province is going to implement a new restriction on rotational workers, it should at least provide the data to justify it, said Pelletier.

He said he's asked for the number of COVID-19 cases that have been traced to rotational worker travel, as well as the number of cases that have been traced to persons crossing the border on a regular basis for reasons deemed essential.

So far, he said he's received no response.

"Show us the actual data of rotational workers testing positive and also show us the data of daily commuters testing positive," Pelletier said. "Show us the data that gives you the justification to confine us or isolate us."

The Department of Justice and Public Safety did not provide those statistics by publication time Friday.

On Friday morning, Higgs said about 3,000 people have crossed into New Brunswick for purposes deemed essential. While some of those are driving through to locations in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, he said New Brunswick is the destination for many.