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Business/Economy

Red Dog Mine restricts worker travel to keep COVID-19 out of mine site and nearby villages

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In an effort to stop the novel coronavirus from reaching the site and villages in the region, Red Dog Mine in Northwest Alaska is requiring two-week self-isolation periods and temperature checks before workers can fly to its remote location.

Teck, operator of Red Dog Mine, said it’s also asking employees to work six-week shifts, at least two weeks longer than normal, said Teck spokesman Wayne Hall.

The goal is reducing the number of employees who transfer in and out of the site, which is 80 miles north of Kotzebue and is one of the world’s largest zinc mines.

“While there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Red Dog to date, these measures are part of Teck’s focus on ensuring the health and safety of our employees and communities,” said a statement from the company. “These changes are necessary to protect one another and greatly reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.”

Teck made the changes with NANA, the Alaska Native regional corporation that owns the land being mined.

The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has spread rapidly across the globe, and there are a growing number of confirmed cases in Alaska. Oil companies in Alaska are also taking unusual steps, like temporarily canceling flights for workers, to keep the virus out of their camps.

About 175 of the mine’s more than 500 workers and contractors live in 11 villages in northwest Alaska, Hall said.

Workers leaving the mine and planning to return to their village must first self-isolate in Anchorage at a hotel or with family for two weeks before they can return to the village, he said. The company is providing money for lodging and daily expenses while the workers are in Anchorage.

The goal is keeping the virus out of villages. There are no roads to the communities, and medical care in the region is limited.

Also, mine workers traveling in from Outside will be put up at a hotel in Anchorage for two weeks of self-isolation before they are flown to the mine, Hall said. Workers will be paid for that period, he said.

The operator has hired Beacon, a health and safety services provider, to conduct the temperature checks and ask workers about travel history. The screenings began March 16.

“If Beacon assesses the person is fit for travel, a travelers clearance card is issued to be presented when boarding the plane,” the statement said. “Any employees showing symptoms consistent with COVID- 19, including a fever, or having traveled overseas within the previous 14 days will not be allowed to return to site until they have been issued a medical clearance.”

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