ELKO — A lifetime of working in Sub-Saharan African gold mines has helped prepare Nevada Gold Mines President and CEO Mark Bristow for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in Northeast Nevada.
“The way we have managed the COVID-19 pandemic shows us that we can get on top of this sort of thing,” Bristow said during a community breakfast on June 19.
During the breakfast at the Elko Conference Center, Bristow explained how Nevada Gold Mines responded to the COVID-19 outbreak, and why the company was able to successfully continue its operations during the past three months.
“The first thing we did is we created a set of scenarios and identified critical events that might happen and the most significant one was if we had to isolate a significant percentage of our workforce, because our only way you deal with a viral pandemic is isolation,” he said.
As of June 16, there have been 17 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Nevada Gold Mines sites, out of a total of 58 suspected cases, according to company reports. Nine of those cases have recovered while eight are still active. Long Canyon, in Elko County, had seven confirmed cases of COVID-19, the most of any Nevada Gold Mines site, while the Cortez Gold Mine in Lander and Eureka Counties had just one confirmed case, the fewest of its affected sites.
“We educated our workforce and prepared them as well,” Bristow said. “It is probably one of the best examples of how to manage a pandemic, the way that Nevada Gold Mines management has managed the situation.”
In addition to developing a series of possible scenarios, the company implemented social-distancing measures, moved non-operational employees off-site and began a sanitization program at its sites.
“Anyone who had a symptom we encouraged to own up, and we traced and we isolated,” he said.
When testing for COVID-19 was not available, those displaying symptoms were asked to stay in a 14-day self-isolation. Once testing began available, that time was able to be reduced. Bristow said the company tested 3,000 employees in Elko and Winnemucca, which resulted in two positives.
Bristow said that out of a workforce of 7,000 people, Nevada Gold Mines peaked at 590 isolations and are currently down to about 50 isolations.
“It is not that everyone has COVID, it means you take out any potential transmitter of the disease,” he said.
Bristow compared managing the COVID-19 pandemic to how Barrick Gold Corp. has responded to Ebola outbreaks in Africa.
“We are now on the 11th outbreak of Ebola, in Africa, and we have managed that,” he said. “We got it down now to really managing it in an obsessive way; we have only had 17 infections and this is in a remote area of northwestern (Democratic Republic of Congo).”
Elko Mayor Reece Keener said Monday that Nevada Gold Mines has been an excellent partner as the city has developed its COVID-19 response.
“We have had an Emergency Operation Command Center and they have been highly involved every step of the way,” Keener said.
Bristow said that he has noticed that, for some reason, some people disagree with wearing a mask, and when he walked into the breakfast, he wore a mask to show that everyone should be comfortable wearing a mask in public.
“The virus that started this crisis 90-days ago is still there, you are on top of it and it is not a sign of weakness to wear a mask,” he said.
Bristow said it is also important for members of Elko Community to wear a mask when they go out in public to shop or socialize, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“If we keep the discipline, people are going to write books about this part of Nevada and the way it managed the virus because there is no other environment that I know that has managed it as well as this place,” he said.
Keener said Monday that the only way he foresees area residents being mandated to wear face masks in public would be if Gov. Steve Sisolak mandates the state regress to its Phase I COVID-19 status.
According to data from Elko County, there are currently 38 active cases of COVID-19 in the area, with 22 individuals having previously recovered from the virus. To date, there have been 3,957 COVID-19 tests performed, resulting in 61 confirmed cases and one death. The majority of confirmed cases in Elko County have been adults between the ages of 30-39, or 24 percent. Adults between 50 and 59 are the next most affected group, resulting in 15 percent of confirmed cases.
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