746 positive COVID-19 tests reported for Line 3 workers

Enbridge reports 746 positive COVID-19 tests among Line 3 workers as of Feb. 25, according to data Enbridge provided to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

The White Earth and Red Nations have raised concerns about how the influx of out-of-state workers for the pipeline construction could increase the risk of COVID-19 spread to their communities. They tried unsuccessfully to get the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, then the courts, to order a construction delay because of the pandemic. Native Americans have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19.

In Minnesota, Native Americans have died at two-and-a-half times the rate of white people, according to MDH data.

Healing Minnesota Stories requested MDH provide updated COVID testing data for Line 3 workers. What follows was provided by MDH staff by email.

The MDH chart below shows positive COVID-19 tests among Line 3 workers by worksite, from Nov. 1, 2020 to Feb. 28, 2021. (The drop in late December represents workers leaving for Christmas and New Years.)

Source: Minnesota Department of Health

Thief River Falls and Pennington County, which are near the Line 3 route (Spread 1), have had a surge in COVID-19 cases since early February. MDH said Line 3 workers don’t appear to be a driving factor.

We have studied this question carefully. Our conclusion was that this is a community outbreak driven by community spread. There are COVID case-clusters in a variety of settings including numerous workplaces, schools, and adult and youth sports. There are cases among Enbridge employees working on the Spread 1 worksite in Thief River Falls, but Enbridge appears to be caught up in the increase in cases. … The data shows that Enbridge positivity rate for Spread 1 employees stayed low until the week of Feb 22, well after the surge in Thief River Falls community members started, which occurred around February 1.

MN Dept. of Health

Line 3 workers are tested on the day they start work, again on Day 7, and every two weeks thereafter, MDH said. At its request, Enbridge has gone to weekly testing in Spread 1 in northwest Minnesota (the gray and yellow highlighted areas on the map below) which includes Pennington County.

To be clear, the 746 number represents positive COVID tests, not workers. Some may be duplicate tests (same person taking the test twice). MDH said it tries to “deduplicate” the data to reduce double counting.

Enbridge Line 3 work is being done in five construction spreads in Minnesota.

MDH staff meet weekly with Enbridge management to go over the most recent data. In general, Line 3 workers have a test positivity rate of 2.56 percent, less than that of surrounding communities, it said.

Comment: The “postivity rate” might not be the best way to view the numbers. For instance, it appears that somewhere between 9 and 16 percent of Line 3 workers already have tested positive for COVID-19. (This assumes the 746 positive tests are unduplicated, and represent 746 workers.)

Here’s the math. Enbridge initially said it expected to employ 8,600 workers throughout the project. The 746 positive tests would represents nearly 9 percent of those 8,600 anticipated workforce. At the end of December, Enbridge had 4,642 Line 3 workers. Assuming that’s still roughly the same number, those 746 positive COVID tests would represent 16 percent of the current workforce.

If the math is off, Enbridge can clarify it. The company should be transparent about its COVID testing results and publish them every week, just as it updates progress on Line 3 construction.

For instance, according to Enbridge’s weekly report for Feb. 28 – March 6, the company has completed:

  • Almost all of pipeline route clearing activities
  • 33 percent of the waterbody crossings
  • 14 percent of the wetland crossings

The only thing its weekly report mentions about COVID is the following: “COVID protocols are in place and working as intended.”

If that’s the case, there shouldn’t be any problems publishing the updated test results every week.

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