After a death in a rotational worker’s family, an MHA is pushing for quicker COVID testing


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Vince Whalen is seen in this family photo with his wife, Karen Goobie-Whalen, and their three children. (Karen Goobie-Whalen/Facebook)

A Tory MHA is calling for changes to COVID-19 testing for rotational workers after a woman — who was a wife and mother — died earlier this week without her husband by her side.

Karen Goobie-Whalen, a mother of three, died suddenly at her family home earlier this week, prompting her husband, Vince Whalen, to fly home from his job in Alberta.

Because of rules for rotational workers, Whalen is required to self-isolate and cannot immediately be with his children and other grieving relatives. 

Whalen posted on Facebook that the earliest he could get a COVID-19 test would be Friday morning. This meant he couldn’t leave isolation to be at home with his school-aged children or go to the funeral home.

Lloyd Parrott, who represents Terra Nova district and Whalen’s family as constituents, told CBC News he stepped in to make testing available to Whalen Thursday morning.

Parrott wants to see point-of-entry testing become available for rotational workers, but didn’t bring the idea forward in the House of Assembly on Thursday citing it as a personal issue he didn’t want to politicize.

PC MHA Lloyd Parrott says he wants point-of-entry COVID-19 testing for rotational workers that could speed up the time for families to reunite. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

“It’s sad. This really highlights the situation with rotational workers,” Parrott told CBC News. 

“Rotational workers are going and coming from their families for long periods of time, and to come home and to not be able to interact [with family], certainly in a situation like this, it shows the things behind the scenes that we don’t take into consideration.” 

Faster way needed: MHA

Newfoundland and Labrador requires rotational workers in places like Fort McMurray, Alta. — where Whalen works — to self-isolate as they return home, for a period of at least seven days, providing they test negative for coronavirus. [Workers inside the so-called Atlantic Bubble do not need to self-isolate.]

Parrott said a faster way of testing workers is needed. 

“We should be doing point-of-entry testing, obviously, for rotational workers specifically if not for everyone. When you look at our points of access, I think it’s a feasible thing we can do and it will unite people much quicker.” 

Parrott said he was able to move the testing time along with the help of Whalen’s family physician.

“I’m just doing my job. It’s nothing I wouldn’t do for anyone else. At the end of the day he needed help and I my best to help him,” said Parrott. 

Health Minister John Haggie says there is no obstacle preventing a family from reuniting under circumstances such as Vince Whalen’s. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Meanwhile, Health Minister John Haggie said he only became aware of the situation after Whalen’s post on social media started getting shared widely. 

Haggie told reporters on Thursday there’s no obstacle preventing a family from reuniting under these kinds of circumstances, and there was a miscommunication on what Whalen could and could not do under government’s COVID-19 regulations. He said for a rotational worker in Whalen’s situation, his family is his bubble. 

“It was written into our guidelines when we revised them last around [for] rotational workers. It’s there on the website. There are flexible arrangements though the funeral homes. We work well with that association to craft some flexible guidelines around that to allow visitations for people who would technically still be in isolation.” said Haggie. 

“I think it was simply a question of conveying those to someone who is very distraught, likely very tired and obviously under a lot of stress.”

Haggie said there was always an exemption in place for those in urgent need to return to the province and funeral home visitations. 

Whalen, who did not respond to a CBC request for an interview, later took to Facebook and disputed Haggie’s remarks. He insisted he was told Friday was the earliest he could be seen for a COVID-19 test.

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