A total of 788 workers in the building Onkyo Line 3 pipeline According to data obtained by Al Jazeera from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the state of Minnesota in the United States has tested positive for COVID-19.
The project is the largest in Enbridge’s history and will replace the 1,700-kilometer (1,000-mile) oil pipeline from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin, USA.In protests and protests, construction is expected to continue until the end of the year Indigenous resistance To the project.
In late November, during the state’s worst pandemic, thousands of out-of-state workers arrived in rural communities in northern Minnesota to build pipelines.
Data shows that shortly after construction started on December 1, 2020, a wave of pipeline workers contracted the virus.The surge in winter cases has subsided, but line 3 workers are still infected with COVID because they are highly contagious Delta variant Now it has a firm foothold in the United States.
According to MDH, three workers were hospitalized and no one died.
Medical staff told Al Jazeera that they thought most cases could have been prevented.
in NovemberMore than 200 health care workers and indigenous tribal leaders have petitioned Governor Tim Walz for an emergency shutdown order until the vaccine is widely available. But Walz allowed the project to continue.
Brenna Doheny, executive director of health and climate health professionals, spearheaded the petition to prevent a surge in COVID cases in rural areas, where the capacity of hospitals in rural areas is severely limited. She called the governor’s decision “disappointing and frustrating” because the state had previously listened to medical staff.
“In most cases, they did a great job, but for this reason, the decision is puzzling.”
Laalitha Surapaneni, a doctor caring for COVID patients, signed a petition asking Walz to postpone construction. When Al Jazeera shared the data with her, Sulapanini said: “This is a lot…seems to be avoided.”
Al Jazeera asked Waltz why he allowed the construction of Line 3 to continue. A spokesperson for the governor’s office did not explain why the construction of Line 3 was considered a basic service.
Waltz’s press secretary, Claire Lancaster, wrote in an email that the governor “heard data throughout the pandemic and worked with public health officials to ensure the safety and health of Minnesota “.
Does the construction of Line 3 contribute to community communication?
In November, the state and most parts of the country are entering the worst pandemic wave, and ICU beds have been used up. When Walz allowed construction to continue, thousands of out-of-state workers went to rural communities in northern Minnesota.
According to a labor statistics report, from October to December, the project employed approximately 1,500 local workers and 3,000 out-of-state workers.
Soon after construction began, a wave of workers tested positive for the new coronavirus. According to MDH, of the total number of employees who tested positive, approximately 40% were from out of state and 60% were from Minnesota.
When asked whether the construction of Line 3 would help the community spread, MDH told Al Jazeera, “Community is not binary: the workers of the Line 3 project and everyone else. Many of the workers on Line 3 are locals. .”
Workers are not separated from the community-they often come in contact with people who might spread COVID during work and after get off work, at home, or in bars, restaurants, grocery stores, or gas stations.
The largest number of workers on Line 3 occurred in Thief River Falls in Pennington County, and community cases were also increasing. MDH stated that its investigation found that “officials saw clusters of cases in various environments and expressed concern about community members’ compliance with basic COVID-19 mitigation recommendations, which they attributed to COVID fatigue.” However, MDH was unable to determine Peng. One reason for the increase in overall cases in Nington County.
MDH stated that employee contact tracing is the responsibility of Enbridge and its subcontractors. Enbridge reported to MDH that the most common source of infection for workers is contagious roommates. MDH said that in many cases, infectious roommates tested positive shortly after joining the Line 3 project site. MDH said workers also contracted COVID from social contact (line 3 employees and community members) and work after work. In general, the source of infection for most line 3 workers is either known social contact or unknown.
“Because infectious diseases are spread through close contact, continuous community transmission, and a large labor force composed of people from Minnesota and other states, it is impossible to find the source of most infections,” MDH told Al Jazeera.
In order to find out whether the construction of Line 3 contributes to community communication, Al Jazeera requested relevant data through a public record request, and repeatedly asked MDH for these data, but the department did not provide it. Al Jazeera shared all available MDH data with medical experts, but they stated that the data was incomplete and they could not draw conclusions about whether the pipeline construction caused community transmission.
Construction site COVID rules
Jason Goward is an Ojibwe from the Fond Du Lac Band of the Chippewa Lake Tribe in Lake Superior. He works for two line 3 subcontractors. In 2020, he helped to clean up trees and other pre-construction preparations, and then withdrew from the campaign against Line 3.
Goward said that his boss encouraged employees to wear masks and take precautions, but when the manager was away, he saw the workers take off the masks. He heard some of them say, “I have not been vaccinated” and mentioned masks, “Are they also depriving us of our freedom now?” He said that the manager asked them to work on different trucks, but the workers did not Always follow the rules.
Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner told Al Jazeera that the company has implemented “strict and industry-leading COVID-19 security protocols.” Workers are tested on the first and seventh days of employment, and every two weeks thereafter, as well as daily health and temperature screening.
Kellner said that at the work site, employees must wear masks, keep their physical distance, wash their hands regularly, and disinfect the work area. The company is encouraging its workers to be vaccinated and bringing mobile vaccine clinics to construction sites.
Kellner said that any worker who is infected with COVID-or who is not fully vaccinated and has contact with an infected person-is not allowed to enter the workplace and must be isolated.
“They put us all in danger”
The pipeline route passes through indigenous communities in northern Minnesota, including the White Clay and Red Lake peoples near Thief River Falls. In December, the tribe filed a motion with the Public Utilities Commission to suspend the construction, but the commission rejected the motion. On December 1, 2020, the chairman of the Ojibwe White Earth Band, Michael Fairbanks, wrote to Waltz asking for the postponement of the construction, calling it “life-saving”.
He wrote: “The number of COVID cases among indigenous peoples may be 3.5 times or more than the general population-this is the incidence in the general population, and the age is ten years younger.”
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of Native Americans dying from this disease is almost twice that of whites.
Dawn Goodwin, a member of White Earth, said her community has lost seniors due to COVID-19. The elderly are especially important because they retain the traditional knowledge that has survived in mandatory assimilation boarding schools in the United States and Canada.
Although it is not clear whether Line 3 contributed to COVID cases in her community, Goodwin said, “They put us all at risk.”
“It makes me angry because we try to tell them. I try not to live in anger. It’s not a good mood, but when you see your community being invaded by workers from all over during the pandemic, it’s hard not angry.”