The Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories started offering limited COVID-19 tests for its employees last week, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory could start testing this week, according to a senior state official.
Sandia is for now only testing the Albuquere campus’ employees, contractors and subcontractors, a spokesperson for the weapons-engineering lab said Monday. Appointments are drive-through only, and those who want a test must request one from the lab’s medical clinic.
“Sandia will use a risk-based screening approach, informed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New Mexico Department of Health guidelines, to determine who will be tested,” the Sandia spokesperson said. “This testing will help Sandia reduce community spread of COVID-19 among workforce members who still need to work on campus to conduct critical national security work.”
It was not clear how many people Sandia had tested at deadline for Defense Daily. The lab does engineering work for the non-nuclear parts of nuclear weapons, and tests the existing arsenal to ensure deployed weapon models are fit for service.
New Mexico Secretary of Health Kathyleen Kunkel disclosed the labs’ ongoing and planned testing at the beginning of a press conference streamed live Thursday on Facebook.
Los Alamos National Laboratory “hopes to be up and doing testing … in the next week, potentially,” Kunkel said Thursday.
“Los Alamos National Laboratory has not performed any testing,” a lab spokesperson wrote in an email on Monday. The spokesperson would not say when the world’s first nuclear weapons design lab might start testing for the disease, or whether it would test employees only.
A spokesperson for New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) told Defense Daily on Monday that “[b]oth labs are working on getting to the point of assisting in testing the broader population.”
Los Alamos is the lead design lab on the Department of Energy’s two ongoing nuclear weapons refurbishments, the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb and the W88 Alt-370 submarine launched ballistic missile warhead. The U.S. will carry the bomb on a mixture of B-2 bombers and, eventually, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and planned B-21 Raider. NATO planned to use the F-15, F-16 and PA-200 aircraft.
At deadline for Defense Daily, U.S. nuclear weapons labs had only essential workers reporting for duty: people working on sensitive national security missions, and people who maintain and guard lab infrastructure.
Civilian nuclear-weapons production sites, meanwhile, continued at their normal pace of operations, with production workers reporting for their usual shifts. The production sites had generally not tested their own work forces, to this point in the COVID-19 pandemic.