Investigation underway after several YVR baggage handlers contract COVID-19

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VANCOUVER -- A number of baggage handlers working with a YVR ground services company have tested positive for COVID-19 and several others continue to self-isolate while waiting for test results.

WorkSafeBC confirmed a prevention officer followed up with the employer but the agency would not confirm the name of the company and says it is no longer involved because the airport falls under federal jurisdiction.

However, CTV News has learned at least seven baggage handlers who contracted the virus work for Strategic Aviation, a ground support services company that works with multiple airlines at YVR.

Administration at the airport initially declined to comment, but late in the day sent an emailed statement confirming CTV News' earlier reporting.

“We are aware that some employees of Strategic Aviation have tested positive for COVID-19. Upon learning of these cases Strategic Aviation notified the Airport Authority immediately as per our protocols and confirmed they are working directly with the public health authorities and following their direction," the statement said.

Vancouver Coastal Health has not declared an outbreak and said it is unable to provide specific details on cases in order to protect the privacy of patients.

“In cases where public health is able to contact all cases and close contacts directly and we determine there is no ongoing risk too the public, we will not issue a notification or provide details to protect a patient’s privacy rights,” Deana Lancaster, a VCH communications leader, said in an emailed statement.

According to a source, contract tracers told employees in Strategic Aviation’s YVR baggage handling department that possible exposure could have taken place between Nov. 29 and Dec. 4.

The person, who spoke to CTV News on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on behalf of the company, said many of those who later became infected attended a 40-minute indoor meeting on Dec. 2.

They said they believe everyone at that meeting was wearing a mask but the room where it took place was not big enough for the 10 people involved to adequately physically distance from one another.

The source said they came forward because they worry Strategic Aviation is not being transparent enough with staff about the number of positive cases, raising concerns about health risks for other employees and their close contacts.

In an emailed stated to CTV News, Strategic Aviation said it has been in touch with all employees who have tested positive and they are all experiencing no symptoms, or mild symptoms.

“Since the first days of the pandemic, we have mandated mask use in the workplace anytime team members are indoors as well as anytime they are within six feet of any other person when outdoors,” the statement said.

“We check team members temperature at the beginning of shifts. We also ask our employees to wash their hands as often as possible.”

Strategic Aviation also said it is cooperating with investigations led by health authorities and has enhanced cleaning protocols in a bid to prevent further spread of the virus.