SRS, COVID Update

The Savannah River Site, a 310-square-mile nuclear reserve, is located south of Aiken.

No cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, have been reported at the Savannah River Site south of Aiken as of Wednesday afternoon, a U.S. Department of Energy spokesperson said, and the site remains fully up and running.

Some employees are teleworking (national defense- and nuclear-oriented work can make that a challenge), in-person meetings have been limited to less than 10 people, larger get-togethers are handled over the phone and employees returning from overseas are being remotely screened. On a broader scale, the Energy Department is now only authorizing so-called mission-critical travel.

The Savannah River Site's infectious disease response team has also been tapped.

"DOE and SRS officials are taking the coronavirus and its impacts very seriously," the Energy Department spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday.

The sprawling Savannah River Site is the region's single largest employer – thousands work, sometimes in close proximity, behind the fence and barricades near New Ellenton and Jackson.

Sixty cases of COVID-19 had been reported in South Carolina as of Wednesday afternoon; nearly 200 cases were reported in Georgia. A few cases have been reported in nearby Augusta. Zero have been reported in Aiken County.

Officials in both states, though, expect more cases to crop up.

Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon on Sunday declared a state of emergency in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The Aiken County government followed suit. S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster has shuttered public schools and colleges through the end of March and has required bars and restaurants statewide to halt dine-in services, and President Donald Trump on Wednesday moved to send military hospital ships to virus-stricken areas.

"Challenging seasons are followed by better ones, and I'm absolutely convinced that we'll get through this moment in time together," U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said in a March 13 video.

Brouillette on Monday said his Energy Department was taking the White House's lead and would, among other approaches, emphasize teleworking and social distancing – avoiding public places as well as close contact with other people.

Symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, coughing and shortness of breath, are similar to the flu and can take two weeks to develop in some cases.

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