Editor's note: This story has been updated with more information about the outbreak
A second COVID-19 outbreak has been identified at the Ouray Silver Mines, where the company’s top executive estimated half of all employees may have already had the virus.
The state classifies an outbreak as two confirmed cases with onset within 14 days in the same workplace, facility or gathering. Two people who work in the office and tested positive earlier this month have since recovered from short illnesses and returned to work, Chief Executive Officer Brian Briggs said last week. The latest outbreak became public when it was recorded by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's outbreak map updated on Wednesday afternoon.
He said the company’s human resources manager contracted the virus from her husband, and her assistant then caught the virus from her. Both live in Montrose County and will not be added to Ouray County’s case count, though the outbreak is classified based on the location of the office.
Briggs questioned whether two employees truly constitutes an outbreak when they have more than 200 employees, contractors and vendors traveling to and from the mine office and mine site.
Ouray Silver Mines previously announced an outbreak in November, and shut down operations for deep cleaning. There were 28 lab-confirmed COVID cases identified in the initial outbreak, according to CDPHE.
But Briggs said that number was “probably low,” because more employees may have had it but showed no symptoms or experienced some symptoms but were not tested.
“Roughly speaking, we can say that at least half of our people have had coronavirus,” he said, including contractors, vendors and company employees. They’ve ranged in ages from their 20s to 60s, he said, but none have been hospitalized and “nobody got really ill.” Most have had mild symptoms for a few days “where they feel bad,” he said, and feel rundown for a bit but quickly recover.
“There’s probably people in the warehouse that have had it and didn’t show any symptoms,” Briggs said.
He estimated the company is spending about $100,000 per month on coronavirus precautions, including about $50,000 more than usual each month on transportation because vans are kept at half-capacity. In late October, just before the first cases were identified, the mine hired a contractor, 5M Enterprises, LLC, to handle cleaning and disinfection, as well as providing medical advice and support.
The mine’s warehouse and office site in Ouray is cleaned every night, Briggs said, while the mine site on Camp Bird Road is cleaned between each shift.
“The first shift gets up to the mine right before 7 o’clock, and the whole thing’s been cleaned,” he said. When their shift ends at four, they shower and are taken down from the mine by van. “The cleaning crew comes in and cleans everything, there’s an hour gap between shifts and then the vans for the next shift show up.” After the second shift, the site is cleaned again before workers return in the morning.
“I’ve got these vans running everywhere,” Briggs said.
Masks are required in the vans, he said, and in the office, employees “try to stay six feet apart.” Employees who show symptoms are tested, he said.
They’ll continue with the cleaning protocols and transportation limits until the state lifts restrictions or the medical professionals contracted by the company tell them otherwise, he said.