Mine in Arctic Alaska tightens protocols after COVID-19 cases

Some parts of Alaska's coastline have never been surveyed. (iStock)
Red Dog Mine is 90 miles north of Kotzebue, Alaska, 50 miles inside the Arctic Circle. (iStock)
Several cases of COVID-19 have been reported since the beginning of September at the Red Dog Mine in Northwest Alaska, leading to tighter restrictions at the facility.

Two cases among residents at the mine were reported about a week apart by Maniilaq Association, the regional healthcare organization. One of the cases was reported from a Sept. 10 test in a resident of Kotzebue. Before that, a Kivalina resident tested positive for COVID-19 in a Sept. 5 test. Both were isolating at Red Dog and were asymptomatic, according to Maniilaq, which reports cases of residents of the Northwest Arctic Borough.

An out-of-state contractor also reportedly tested positive on Sept. 15, according to a company spokesperson. NANA Regional Corporation, which owns Red Dog land, has reported other sporadic cases over the past several months.

In an email, Laura Kayuqtuq Orenga de Gaffory a spokesperson for Teck Alaska, the mine’s operator, wrote that in response to the most recent cases, the mine has tightened some protocols.

Outbound travel to communities suspended

Red Dog now requires all personnel to wear a KN95 face mask and has closed down dining, recreation and public areas. Personnel are required to eat meals in their rooms.

Red Dog previously required social distancing in public areas and required employees from out of the area to wear KN95 masks in public until they received a negative COVID-19 test. The new protocols, which began on Sept 15, extend those requirements to all employees, even after they receive a negative result.

Orenga de Gaffory also said that Red Dog suspended outbound travel from the mine to regional communities on Sept. 16. She wrote that the company is working with the Northwest Arctic Borough and the regional communities to restart travel as soon as possible.

Red Dog is one of the world’s largest zinc mines and employs many NANA shareholders from regional communities.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Chamber of Commerce in Canada’s Northwest Territories balks at price tag for new COVID-19 secretariat, CBC News

Finland:  Finnair to end flights to five regional airports, including to Kemi, Lapland, Yle News

Denmark: Faroe Islands updates COVID-19 guidelines for travellers, Eye on the Arctic

Greenland: Greenland reexamining COVID-19 rules after cases surge in Denmark, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Iceland orders four-day closure of Reykjavik-area bars after uptick in COVID-19 infections, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Finland, UK to remove travel restrictions on Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: To stop coronavirus, Arctic communities took matters into their own hands. Can it last?, Blog by Mia Bennett

Lex Treinen, Alaska Public Media

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