Gem Mountain identifies worker as first case of COVID-19 in Granite County


PHILIPSBURG – Granite County was one of a few in Montana to avoid infections by the COVID-19 virus until Wednesday afternoon.

Chairman of the Granite County Board of Health Mark Ransford identified that the county had incurred its first case that the county’s Incident Management Team was on top of it and addressing the matter.

Later Wednesday afternoon, Gem Mountain noted on its Facebook page that the virus had been contracted by one of its workers.

Thursday owners Chris Cooney and Kathy Fitzpatrick issued the following statement regarding the infection and his businesses’ response.

Covid-19 Update

We believe transparency and honesty is best; so here is the best update we can provide at this time. An employee at our mine location on Skalkaho Pass Road has tested positive for Covid-19. In an abundance of caution we have closed the mine location through the end of the month. The rest of the staff identified as "Close Contacts" were tested this morning. We will have results this weekend and post them here.

We are working with the Granite County Health Board and County Health Nurse to manage the situation in the best manner possible. They have informed us that the mine location is a minimal risk environment due to the outdoor location and sanitizing systems we have in place. We have even been testing the wash trough water and treating it with swimming pool chlorine tablets.

If you did not spend over 15 minutes within six feet of one of our staff members and practiced good social distancing and sanitizing procedures you are minimal risk.

We are not required to close according to the Health Board or Montana Covid guidelines and hope to reopen with reduced staffing and limited services within the next two weeks. The safety of our staff, community and customers is our number one priority. We will post additional information here when we know more.

Here is the Press Release we distributed to the Community and Health Organizations yesterday evening.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 6/24/2020 FROM THE GEM MOUNTAIN SAPPHIRE MINE, PHILIPSBURG, MT:

Gem Mountain is closing the mine location on Skalkaho Pass Road for the remainder of the month: June 25th – 30th. The Town location will be open but there will be no gravel washing. We will have gravel to go available in town through the weekend. We will have additional information regarding operation of the mine and town locations later this weekend or early next week.

An employee of Gem Mountain has tested positive for Covid 19. Six additional employees have been identified as “Close Contacts” and will be tested for Covid within 48 hours. Close Contacts are defined as individual who have spent more than 15 minutes within six feet of each other. Once we know the results of additional testing and have identified employees who need to self-quarantine for 14 days we will be able to make informed decisions regarding operations going forward. For the next two weeks, or longer, we will operate with limited services and significantly reduced staffing.

It is unfortunate that our Tourist based economy has brought Covid to Philipsburg. We undertook the recommended sanitizing and safety measures while attempting to enforce social distancing to the best of our ability. We even test the gravel wash water and treat it with swimming pool chlorine tablets. Despite our best efforts Covid has struck our community. We are working with the Granite County Health Department and County Health Nurse to manage this situation in the best manner possible.

Our number one priority is the safety of our staff, community and customers. For this reason we are implementing a partial closure and are fundamentally changing operating practices as we continue to adapt to the “new normal”. Our thoughts and prayers are extended to our affected families and we wish them, and you, the best.

Sincerely,

Chris Cooney, Kathy Fitzpatrick and the Awesome crew of Gem Mountain

Ransford acknowledged the test, but indicated that unless there was a significant rise in the case numbers that Granite County would remain on track to follow Montana Governor Steve Bullock’s phased reopening plan. At present, it appears that Bullock plans to institute Phase 3 of the plan on or around Labor Day although changing data could alter that date.

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