17 cases of COVID-19, including 1 in Sudbury, linked to outbreak at Lac des Iles mine in northwestern Ontario
'Virus is 'fierce' says company vp; 'We continue to fight it together as a team' in effort to stop spread
Impala Canada (IC) confirmed Tuesday that 17 cases of COVID-19 are now related to an outbreak at the company's Lac des Iles (LDI) mine, about 90 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, Ont.
Fifteen of the cases have been identified by either the Thunder Bay District Health Unit (TBDHU) or the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU), which covers the area west of Thunder Bay to the Manitoba border.
However, late Monday evening, the company learned Public Health Sudbury & Districts (PHSD) had also confirmed a positive case connected to the mine. The Timiskaming Health Unit (THU), also in northeastern Ontario, had previously confirmed a case as well.
Earlier Monday, the Northwestern Health Unit had reported two new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Atikokan, both of which are connected to the LDI mine which produces bulk palladium, nickel and copper.
"The cases are self-isolating and all contacts are in quarantine. Affected employees from LDI mine are being contacted regularly to ensure compliance with control measures," the NWHU posted on Facebook. "We ask that anyone from NWHU region who has worked at the mine since March 30 to contact us."
Mine outbreak shows 'how fierce this really is'
IC, which opens and operates the mine, said Friday that additional testing of LDI team members is underway, with cases also coming back negative.
"We continue to stay in touch with these individuals and their families, offering our care and support," said Erin Satterthwaite, vice president of corporate affairs and communications for Impala Canada
Pandemic response protocols were implemented at LDI, and twice scrutinized and deemed best practice by TBBHU, she noted.
"Despite our collective best efforts, the coronavirus spread amongst some of our team. The growing number of cases reinforces how fierce this virus really is and we continue to fight it together as a team with a singular focus: stop any further spread," Satterthwaite said in Friday's written statement. "In everything we are doing right now – whether at home, on site or at the hotel – we are putting health and safety first."Impala Canada said it had transferred most of its employees off the site as of April 13, with employees who were unable to quarantine at home, or would have to travel across the country, to stay in a hotel in Thunder Bay.
Management and staff of the LDI operation, who were not subject to quarantine, along with security personnel and public health inspectors from the TBDHU, are at the hotel 24/7, the company said, to ensure all protocols from public health are followed.
Mine will only re-start 'when we are confident it is safe to do so'
In an emailed statement Tuesday, Satterthwaite said operations at LDI were ramped down into temporary care and maintenance on April 13 and will remain that way for the time being.
"We will only re-start operations when we are confident it is safe to do so within the realities of a global pandemic. The province of Ontario continues to operate under a State of Emergency, which has been extended until May 12th. This fact, coupled with the health and safety of our employees and our ability to provide a safe work environment, will be key factors in determining a date to resume operations," she stated.
Satterthwaite said the company is also continuing to work closely with all stakeholders, including Indigenous partners and with public health authorities on "any additional best practices we can implement to further eliminate the potential spread of COVID-19 on site, now and into the future."
A small care and maintenance crew of less than 50 people remain on site, she said, with all existing pandemic response protocols being strictly followed, including new daily temperature checks. As well, a deep and comprehensive sanitization of the mine site is currently underway.
The total number of cases across northwestern Ontario as of 3 p.m. April 21 is 65, with 16 of those cases linked to the mine site.
One other case is a person who was identified as part of the Northwestern Health Unit catchment area, but resides in southern Ontario.