Mines combat COVID-19; trona firms launch health campaign to combat virus’ spread

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CASPER — Leaders of Wyoming’s largest trona mines have banded together to launch a public health campaign for Sweetwater County to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and keep businesses open.

Editor’s Note: According the latest report from MVHS, no active cases are in the school, but some students were quarantined due to a parent working in the trona mines and being exposed to the virus.

Wyoming’s trona patch in the southwest part of the state employs upward of 2,300 workers across four mines. But the rapid spread of the virus throughout the county has complicated some operations.

Back in early April, several mineral operators took steps to prevent the virus from entering the plants and mines. They required strict social distancing, smaller crew sizes and staggered shifts.

But those measures only went so far. The highly infectious disease escalated throughout the broader community.

By early November, soda ash producer Ciner Wyoming said the virus had started straining the workforce and interrupting operations. Craig Rood, director of public relations and government affairs at Ciner, said droves of workers had to quarantine for possible exposure to the virus. Some tested positive.

The employer was especially worried for the safety of its vulnerable workers. Ciner wasn’t alone.

David Caplan, director of communications at another Green River trona facility called Genesis Alkali, described a similar situation.

Not only were the operators concerned about workers’ well-being, they also couldn’t afford to shut down or delay production without sustaining huge economic losses.

Operators asserted again and again that the virus wasn’t spreading inside the trona mines or plants. Most positive cases among employees have been traced to events or gatherings outside the workplace, they said.

“We did a lot of education work and communication, helping workers try to make good choices when they were not at work,” Rood said. “But as time went, on we realized we needed more participation from the community to get those messages out and reinforce safe behaviors in the community as well.”

“Things were happening outside our control,” Caplan added.

This fall, Ciner Wyoming, Genesis Alkali and other large employers in Sweetwater County decided to collaborate and find possible solutions.

The team will soon launch a website entirely devoted to COVID-19 resources for Sweetwater residents. The companies garnered support from additional stakeholders to make the six-month long campaign possible; the mayors of Rock Springs and Green River, the county health department, the community college and others joined in.

But the initiative will likely stand out from other public health messaging seen throughout the pandemic.

The key to this campaign, Ciner’s Rood explained, will be to keep the message fun. He called it “a softer approach.”

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