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Thousands of masks, hundreds of face shields crafted at Savannah River complex

SRS Sign, Brouillette Visit (copy)

An entrance to the Savannah River Site, a 310-square-mile nuclear reserve near New Ellenton.

Crews at the Savannah River Site crafted an abundance of face coverings and face shields – measures of personal protection – as cases of COVID-19 cropped up at the nuclear complex and the novel coronavirus crisis continued worldwide.

Approximately 20,000 cloth face coverings and nearly 800 face shields had been made at the Containment Fabrication Facility as of June 11. The fabrication facility typically pumps out radiological containment huts and other specialized gear; it was converted to a mask plant, of sorts, in April.

As of last week, though, face covering and shield production there had ceased. Restarting is an option, a U.S. Department of Energy spokesperson noted.

A total 36 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, had been logged at the Savannah River Site as of Tuesday morning. Thirteen of those cases were active. More than 10,000 people work at the site, an Energy Department waste-and-weapons reserve neighboring New Ellenton and Jackson.

The coronavirus spreads chiefly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or yells. Face coverings and shields provide a layer of defense – they "help prevent the respiratory droplets from traveling in the air and onto other people," as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts it.

South Carolina health officials have recently emphasized the importance of masks, face coverings and physical distancing. COVID-19 cases are mounting in the Palmetto State, Aiken County included. The statewide death toll recently broke 600.

As SRS transitions back to normal operations – a weeks-long process, most likely – conditions in surrounding communities are being reviewed and considered. Hundreds of COVID-19 cases have been recorded in the South Carolina counties surrounding the site.

Savannah River Site officials in a Tuesday online update said the "health and safety of the site workforce is the priority of SRS leadership."

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