Hibbing Taconite will idle production next month until at least early July and lay off 650 employees as the demand for steel tumbles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ArcelorMittal, which manages Hibbing Taconite and owns the largest stake in the mine, said the iron ore mine and pellet processing plant will idle May 3 and resume operation on July 6 "due to the unprecedented and challenging times presented by the COVID-19 pandemic."

"As a result, Hibbing Taconite has begun preparations to reduce production in a safe and orderly manner with necessary precaution to preserve the asset for future production," an ArcelorMittal spokesperson said in an email to the News Tribune on Monday night.

Hibbing Taconite is the third Iron Range mine and plant to announce it would idle production and layoff most employees. Last week, Cleveland-Cliffs said it would idle Northshore Mining in Babbitt and Silver Bay and U.S. Steel said it would idle Keetac.

Announced layoffs at the three mines now total 1,495. In 2018, the six mines on the Iron Range employed a combined 3,954 people, the St. Louis County's Annual Report of the Inspector of Mines said.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The other three Iron Range mines and plants — Cleveland-Cliff's United Taconite in Eveleth and Forbes, ArcelorMittal's Minorca Mine in Virginia and U.S. Steel's Minntac in Mountain Iron — have not announced any shutdowns or layoffs.

Hibbing Taconite is a joint venture between ArcelorMittal, Cleveland-Cliffs and U.S. Steel. Much of the 7.8 million tons of pellets it produces each year are shipped to blast furnaces at ArcelorMittal's Burns Harbor.

On Monday, ArcelorMittal also announced it was idling a blast furnace at Burns Harbor, according to the Times of Northwest Indiana.

Demand for steel has fallen amid the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.

Demand has been driven down by consumer markets and from companies voluntarily shuttering plants to help curb the spread of coronavirus. General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler all halted production in March.

In the last five weeks, capacity utilization of the country’s blast furnaces has fallen from 80.5% to 57%, according to numbers released Monday by the American Iron and Steel Institute.

United Steelworkers Local 2705, the union representing Hibbing Taconite employees, did not immediately respond to the News Tribune's request for comment Monday night.

This story was updated at 9:33 p.m. April 20 with additional information on Iron Range mine employment figures. It was originally posted at 9:15 p.m. April 20.