SRS Sign, COVID Update

An entrance to the Savannah River Site near New Ellenton.

Another case of COVID-19 in the Savannah River Site workforce was announced Wednesday afternoon, bringing the cumulative tally site-wide to six.

The afternoon disclosure comes one week after the fifth case was publicly reported.

"We will continue to keep you updated as circumstances warrant," a U.S. Department of Energy spokesperson said in a statement.

Three Savannah River Site employees have recovered from novel coronavirus infection and have returned to work, according to the Energy Department spokesperson. The three others are on the mend, are being monitored and could return to work soon.

Fewer than 2,500 people are physically reporting for work at the Savannah River Site, near New Ellenton and Jackson. The 310-square-mile nuclear reserve has contracted to essential mission-critical operations, meaning staffing levels and work done there are dramatically reduced.

Defense ventures, National Nuclear Security Administration capital projects and the storage of nuclear materials – at places like K and L areas, plutonium and spent nuclear fuel storehouses – have been prioritized.

Approximately 10,000 people are employed at SRS. Most are now teleworking or are on leave.

The scaling back was first spurred by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's stay-at-home order, which was issued earlier this month and was recently extended. S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster has issued a home-or-work order in light of the mounting coronavirus crisis, as well.

Approximately one-third of the Savannah River Site workforce lives in Georgia. SRS abuts the state line.

Roughly 15,000 cases of COVID-19 – the disease caused by the highly contagious novel coronavirus – have been logged in the Peach State. South Carolina has far fewer cases: 3,656 as of 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Measures to combat the spread of the 2019 coronavirus at the Savannah River Site include weekly and as-needed chemical cleanings, disinfecting control rooms between shifts, temperature checks, a cloth-masks policy and "sanitizer by the gallons," the Energy Department spokesperson said.

April 10 guidance from the Energy Department, which oversees the Savannah River Site, "strongly" advises that "all individuals" – federal employees, contractors, visitors – wear face coverings when social distancing is difficult, in line with what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended.

"I so appreciate what all you are doing for our nation during these challenging times," U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said in a public message, "and know we will get through them together."

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and government in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin