Cameco administers first dose of vaccines amid Cigar Lake mine outbreak

Cameco tested all in-bound passengers to the site this week. Labs at Cigar Lake and Key Lake are conducting COVID-19 tests at all northern sites

Two miners walking through the Cigar Lake mine in northern Saskatchewan. (Photo courtesy of Cameco)

Saskatoon-based uranium company Cameco Corp. is administering first-dose vaccines to workers amid a COVID-19 outbreak at Cigar Lake mine in northern Saskatchewan. 

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) provided 200 Moderna vaccines on a time-sensitive basis. The registered nurses at Cigar Lake are delivering the vaccines – which are available to all employees and contractors on a voluntary basis. Voluntary rapid testing is also now available to workers on-site.

Cameco has also worked with the SHA to set up licenced labs at Cigar Lake and Key Lake to conduct COVID-19 testing for all northern sites.  

“Cigar Lake is presently in an outbreak status,” Cameco spokesperson Jeff Hryhoriw told the Herald on Friday.

“We have remained in steady contact with northern community leaders to ensure they are aware of the situation at site and to try and answer any questions they might have.”

Hryhoriw said leadership in communities nearby to Cigar Lake  have expressed that they are “pleased to hear” about the vaccine program. 

Cameco initiated a three-day, site-wide testing program over the weekend of March 24 after discussing with the Northern Population Health Unit. Site-wide testing produced 97 per cent negative results on 294 tests. Out of nine positive tests eight of those workers were asymptomatic.

Three positive asymptomatic cases were detected at Cigar Lake this week. One individual working at the site tested positive and was isolated. Two other individuals arriving to work tested positive and were also isolated.

Also this week Cameco tested all in-bound passengers to the site. In total, 177 tests were conducted with two positive results and 98 per cent of passengers testing negative. 

Cameco believes that some of the initial cases two weeks ago were connected, which is why the outbreak status was declared. Hryhoriw said the “extensive safety protocols” now in place at Cigar Lake should minimize the risk of transmission on site to the extent possible.  

“We’re also working very closely with provincial health officials and have enhanced these safety measures even further wherever possible,” Hryhoriw said.

All common areas at camp (except the kitchen) have been temporarily closed and tighter guidelines put in place around off-duty activities like fishing to ensure distancing requirements are maintained.”

Cigar Lake continues to operate safely. Workers at Cigar Lake are strongly encouraged to take advantage of the on-site vaccine delivery program that is starting Friday, Hryhoriw said.  

“We want to ensure they are fully up to speed on the latest developments around the pandemic and the outbreak at Cigar Lake, and that they understand the many safety measures in place at our sites and the need to follow them at all times… We have not seen an increase in absenteeism from workers coming to site for their shifts over the last two weeks.”  

Cameco initially suspended operations in northern Saskatchewan at the outset of the pandemic and reopened last September. The company announced its first case of COVID-19 at Cigar Lake last November when an employee tested positive for the virus. 

Operations at the mine were shuttered again last December amid a “significant negative trend” in the pandemic. The mine reopened again in April.

BMO Capital Markets predicted “near-term pressure” on uranium prices that are expected to climb over the next few years.