BC Ferries spoke out Friday after a number of employees at its Horseshoe Bay terminal West Vancouver tested positive for COVID-19, confirming that the corporation has "experienced employee to employee transmission" of the coronavirus.
A spokesperson for BC Ferries wished affected employees "a safe and speedy recovery," telling Vancouver Is Awesome in a statement that it is working with Public Health Authorities to carry out contact tracing.
According to the company, B.C. health authorities confirmed that the risk to the general public is very low, "as the employees do not have close contact with the public."
The statement continued, "We have completed a deep clean of our employee areas at the terminal and all shared vehicles. BC Ferries continues to follow COVID-19 protocols, including increased cleaning at terminals and on board our ships, mandatory face coverings and encouraging customers to remain in their vehicles where possible to ensure customers travelling for essential reasons can continue to do so safely."
News of the cluster comes one day after the union representing B.C.'s ferry workers responded to reports that ferry workers would not be included among the employees set to receive the first release of extra AstraZeneca vaccine, a decision made by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
"Our Union President Graeme Johnston has expressed his deep disappointment to the provincial government, stating it seems wrong that out members' diligence and efforts to minimize COVID-19 outbreaks would be used to support delaying our vaccine priority relative to other businesses and sectors that are receiving vaccination supplies because of their seemingly poorer [occupational health and safety] performance," wrote Jack Bruckman, executive director of the BC Ferry & Marine Workers' Union in a bulletin to members.
Bruckman added that B.C.'s Minister of Transportation Rob Fleming had reached out to the union with his commitment "to fight for ferry workers and other transportation workers as a priority for COVID-19 vaccines," and said the union is reaching out to the province with its demands to see ferry workers prioritized as essential workers in B.C.'s COVID-19 vaccine distribution strategy.
In a statement, BC Ferries said it understands that B.C.'s provincial health officer "faces difficult choices."
"We recognize the decisions are scientifically made and evidence-based," the statement continued. "We are pleased with the recent decision to include some of our crew living aboard a northern vessel to be placed on the priority list. We thank the PHO and government for their timely attention on this matter."
BC Ferries said that while it continues to work closely alongside the province "to evaluate all options to vaccinate additional groups within BC Ferries, especially those working in remote settings," it adds that "the health and safety of our employees and all British Columbians is our top concern.
"We feel this decision acknowledges BC Ferries is a low-risk site. BC Ferries’ workers continue to do an exceptional job of managing the COVID-19 pandemic, while keeping essential goods and services flowing to coastal communities in B.C. Their hard work has helped keep British Columbians safe. We are proud of our employees’ efforts and thank them for their continued dedication and service during the pandemic."