There were seven confirmed new cases of COVID-19 across the U.S. civilian nuclear weapons complex last week, a spokesperson for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration said Friday.
That makes for a total of 119 cases at the semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency since confirmation in January of the first U.S. case of the viral disease, which is caused by the novel coronavirus that broke out last year in Wuhan, China. Nobody working at National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) sites had died of the disease as of Friday, the spokesperson said.
There were 41 active cases in the NNSA complex as of Friday, while 78 people had recovered from their bouts with the respiratory virus.
Among NNSA sites, only the Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories have acknowledged they can test employees on-site. Cases at both labs held steady last week: 11 confirmed at the Los Alamos campus in northern New Mexico; Sandia had 15, covering 11 in Albuquerque, N.M., and four in Livermore, Calif. Each lab has tested more than 1,000 employees, spokespersons said last week, but only Los Alamos requires employees to submit to random screenings.
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California reported eight confirmed cases last week, up one from seven cases the week before.
More than 50% of all personnel at the three national labs — and sometimes much more than that — are still working remotely as part of the NNSA’s efforts to stem the spread of the disease among its federal and contractor workforce. The agency has not yet said what effect the COVID-19 response has had on major weapons-modernization and infrastructure replenishment programs.
The agency’s three main production sites, as they have since the outbreak started, maintained shifts last week for personnel working on nuclear weapons missions. The Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, switched back to normal operations last week, meaning employees working on weapons programs were joined on-site by most support and services personnel. However, telework continued for all who are able.
Of all the locations where NNSA manufactures or services nuclear weapons, only the Savannah River Site in South Carolina — operated by DoE’s Office of Environmental Management and home to a major nuclear-cleanup mission — report a the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases on-site. The Aiken, S.C., facility had logged a total of 42 confirmed cases as of Friday, 14 of which were active.
Meanwhile, the two DoE headquarters buildings in and around Washington, D.C. — where about 1,000 NNSA employees and support services contractors work — will transition to Phase 2 of their reopening plan on June 29, according to a DoE statement posted online Friday. In that phase, more people will return to work than did in Phase 1, including employees who are potentially most vulnerable to COVID-19, but who still wish to return to the office.
The Energy Department has a four-phase reopening plan for its headquarters buildings in the Washington region. The two buildings are in Phase 1 now, with Phase 3 signifying a return to essentially pre-COVID-19 operations. Big common areas likely will not reopen until the final phase.
In Phase 2, some employees will still be able to telework, or receive 20 hours a week of excused absence if they are providing care for dependents.
“I have authorized an extension of the excused absence for Federal employees who are teleworking and have caregiving responsibilities to September 11, 2020,” Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette wrote in the statement. “ Supervisors may continue to grant up to 20 hours of excused absence per pay period to teleworking employees caring for or providing educational instruction to children as a result of school, daycare, and camp closures due to COVID-19.”