Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro hopes to reopen its offices on Monday after two fully vaccinated employees tested positive for COVID-19.
Both workers have had mild symptoms and are recovering, hydro president Tim Curtis said in an interview.
One employee, who was home because he wasn't feeling well, was infected after his two children contracted the virus at their Niagara Falls school last week, Curtis said. The children have now recovered, he said.
It is not known how the second worker became infected though it is suspected he was exposed to COVID by earlier contact with the first employee.
That second worker was negative on a rapid antigen test last Friday at work but tested positive on Monday and subsequently on a PCR test.
“It just shows you how infectious this virus is,” Curtis said.
All 18 of NOTL Hydro's staff members are fully vaccinated and follow COVID protocols in the office, he said. Everyone is required to wear a mask when they are not at their desk.
WIth the Henegan Road office closed this week, people are working from home but customers are still able to reach hydro workers by phone, he said.
The utility is following the guidance of Niagara public health officials, Curtis added.
While the company routinely uses rapid antigen test kits supplied to businesses by the NOTL Chamber of Commerce, after the COVID cases were discovered all employees underwent the more reliable PCR tests by attending testing clinics at Niagara hospitals.
Being an essential service, some hydro workers have been in the building during the pandemic. Most staff resumed working in the office earlier this year when retailers reopened, Curtis said.
Everyone undergoes rapid tests three times a week and the second employee discovered he was positive thanks to one of those routine tests, he said.
“He immediately turned around and left the office” after the positive test so as not to expose anyone else, Curtis said.
On Wednesday, Nov. 3, the utility learned that all remaining employees have tested negative.
The next step is for everyone to undergo a final PCR test at a hospital clinic by Friday and hopefully reopen the office on Monday, Curtis said.
Anatomy of an outbreak
NOTL Hydro president Tim Curtis provides the timeline of the COVID outbreak, which forced the utility's offices to be closed to visitors on Monday.
Wednesday, Oct. 27: Infected employee #1 stayed home as he was not feeling well. The next day he was notified of an outbreak at his children's school and he got tested.
Late in the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 29: He learned his test was positive so all remaining hydro staff received rapid tests. All were negative.
Monday, Nov. 1: All staff underwent rapid antigen tests and employee #2's was positive.
Monday and Tuesday: All other hydro staff received PCR tests based on seven days having elapsed since their last contact with employee #1.
Tuesday, Nov. 2: Employee #2's PCR test also came back positive.
Wednesday, Nov. 3: All remaining employees get negative test results from their PCR tests and have booked another PCR test based on seven days elapsed from last contact with employee #2. Most of these tests will be on Friday.
Assuming all are negative, NOTL Hydro plans to reopen as normal on Monday.