She hasn't hugged her kids in months. Now, this N.L. rotational worker has a chance 'for normalcy'

·4 min read
Kelly Collins, an ironworker who spends most of the month in British Columbia, says Friday's rule changes for out-of-province workers like her means she might be able to share a few days with her kids. (CBC - image credit)
Kelly Collins, an ironworker who spends most of the month in British Columbia, says Friday's rule changes for out-of-province workers like her means she might be able to share a few days with her kids. (CBC - image credit)

Some rotational workers in Newfoundland and Labrador and their families say new rules around COVID-19 testing and self-isolation will change their quality of life.

Following public health changes Friday, any workers flying home can book a COVID-19 swab the moment they land. Once cleared with a negative test result — and if they're showing no symptoms of the illness — they can spend time with their families, rather than being holed up in a cabin or distant corner of the house.

Kelly Collins rejoiced at the news. An ironworker in British Columbia, she has three daughters at home — kids she says she hasn't hugged in months.

"Each time I'm home, I don't get to see them," she said. "Only from a distance."

Collins works up to three weeks in B.C., then flies to Newfoundland for seven days off. Two of those days she spends in planes and in airports, leaving her without much time at home.

At their most relaxed, the province's rules for rotational workers like Collins only permitted a COVID-19 test on the fifth day the worker was back in the province.

She was only ever home long enough to quarantine for 14 days once — last Christmas — when she finally held her daughters.

"They broke down and cried," Collins recalled.

Workers flying home to Newfoundland and Labrador can book a COVID-19 swab the moment they land.
Workers flying home to Newfoundland and Labrador can book a COVID-19 swab the moment they land.(Andrew Hawthorn/CBC)

She called the new rules an "improvement," a chance to, perhaps, spend more time in the same room as her kids.

"It's been a trying year for everybody," she said.

For rotational workers in particular, who've kept up with several significant changes to restrictions — from no-contact quarantine periods, to clearance testing at various days within those two-week periods, and back to no-contact — the new rules offer a chance for "some kind of normalcy," Collins said.

"You're alone ... when you're working, and you're alone when you come home. It's been rough."

Collins considered moving her kids out to B.C. to avoid the restrictions, and the danger of passing the virus to her children, two of whom have lung conditions.

"I've thought about it," she said. "But home is home."

Feeling valued

Deatra Walsh has been following the plight of rotational workers and their families closely over the last year. Walsh has first-hand experience of the challenges those families face, though she's quick to note her situation has been easier as compared to some.

Walsh said Friday's changes allow workers to feel more valued and provide peace of mind that helps their mental health. But it's plan workers and their families have been calling for for a long time, she said.

"I think having access to more testing is important, and it is important for a number of reasons. It's a gradual thing, we know the issue around false negatives. There's been a lot of discussion around that and how these tests can be not necessarily indicative of what's really going on," she said.

"But having a sequential approach to this is positive, so that people can get back to normal lives."

Walsh said the year has been tricky, messy and frustrating for many and a plan such as the one announced Friday could have been tabled earlier.

Deatra Walsh says the new plan for rotational workers helps them feel valued and is a boost to mental health for them and their families.
Deatra Walsh says the new plan for rotational workers helps them feel valued and is a boost to mental health for them and their families. (Submitted by Deatra Walsh)

She said the most recent lockdown in February made the spouses of rotational workers, many of whom are women, feel tired and angry.

"I think it's important to note that when women are angry, when spouses are angry about the situation, something has got to give. Women need more support in order to make all this work," she said.

"We can only do so much unpaid labour to make this work. From that perspective, I think this is really important for women's mental health, for the mental health of partners and their families and for the rotational workers themselves."

In reaction to Friday's announcement, PC Leader Ches Crosbie said rotational workers are essential to their communities, noting the difficult year they and their families have faced.

"They're heroes to their families. They're heroes to all of us in the province," said Crosbie.

"There's about 15,000 families in this province for whom rotational worker income is essential.… This partial liberalization gives them more personal freedom in a graduated way, subject to more frequent testing. It's something to be applauded."

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