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72 new coronavirus cases confirmed at Savannah River Site

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This undated electron microscope image, made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020, shows the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

The cumulative coronavirus tally among the Savannah River Site workforce, more than 11,200 people, has surpassed 300.

An additional 72 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the highly contagious virus, were confirmed at the nuclear-waste-and-weapons hub south of Aiken this week, the largest jump in recent memory.

Previous weekly increases hovered around 50.

The first instance of COVID-19 at the Savannah River Site was confirmed in late March. Though things have escalated from there, a majority of employees who at one point contracted the virus have since recovered and returned to work.

One Savannah River Nuclear Solutions employee has died.

The Savannah River Site as of Friday afternoon remained in its first phase of reopening, a gated return to normal operations that has so far been hamstrung by an increasing coronavirus caseload. SRS and its contractors months ago transitioned to essential mission-critical operations only, suspending certain projects and missions and drastically reducing the number of people required to be on-site.

At one point, a coronavirus scare halted Surplus Plutonium Disposition project construction for two weeks.

The Savannah River Site workforce and its instances of COVID-19 are a reflection of the circumstances beyond the fence and barriers: a two-state environment sporting patchwork protections, awash in coronavirus.

More than 2,250 coronavirus cases have been logged in the three South Carolina counties – Aiken, Barnwell and Allendale – surrounding the Savannah River Site. Richmond County, across the river in Georgia, a state home to thousands of SRS employees, has recorded more than 3,980 cases.

Most infections have been the result of off-site, away-from-work "activities," according to a June memo signed by Savannah River Site manager Michael Budney and a National Nuclear Security Administration official.

Masks were made mandatory at a majority of operations weeks ago; other measures to stymie the spread of the virus have included weekly and as-needed chemical cleanings, disinfecting regimens, temperature checks and "sanitizer by the gallons," according to a U.S. Department of Energy spokesperson.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include shortness of breath or trouble breathing, fever or chills, a cough and fatigue.

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