Los Alamos National Laboratory/Photo Courtesy LANL
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos National Laboratory now has 30 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as of Friday morning. According to a Lab spokesman a total of 2,530 tests have been completed to date, with four positive test results from Lab testing.
“The Laboratory’s COVID-19 training module continues to prepare employees, visitors and contractors for return to the campus with an emphasis on the importance of face coverings, physical distancing and personal hygiene such as hand washing. The majority of employees, about two-thirds, continue to telework,” the spokesman said.
Earlier this week, LANL deputy director for operations and chief operating officer Kelly Beierschmitt noted that the number of cases at the Lab was flat for a while but the hotline had identified 24 cases and was expecting a 25th related to work on the Lab. The testing program is not just for LANL staff, he noted, but N3B and the federal workforce as well construction workers and subcontractors.
Beierschmitt said the number of cases is not expected to grow quickly because a commitment was made to protect Lab staff while preserving the mission to do mission-critical work.
“Until we have a cure or a vaccine or very effective available therapeutic treatment, we will remain in the maximum teleworking mode just to protect our community and our staff,” he said.
Beierschmitt said that for folks that do come on site, the Lab does health checks in the morning.
“If you’re exhibiting any symptom whatsoever we tell you to not come to work and tell you to notify a COVID hotline which we’ve been operating now since very early in the crisis. If you do come on site you’re going to be wearing a mask unless you’re isolated privately in your office. We will maintain six-foot social distancing. We’ve purchased a lot of PPE and hand sanitizer, and custodial staff have been trained in a new cleaning protocol to protect staff onsite,” he said.
Beierschmitt also noted that the Lab’s capacity to do COVID testing has been very beneficial.
“We’ve been using our occupational medicine program to test roughly 400 staff per week and I can get those results back on the staff within a day or two at the maximum. For those essential staff that are working on our reservation, we don’t have them come up to the site if they’re symptomatic, but for the staff that are healthy, we’re also doing random testing of those individuals. And we have found a couple of positives in that population that were asymptomatic,” he said.
When employees call the hotline, he said the Lab’s version of contact tracing is conducted.
“As you might imagine, we’ve been getting a lot more of those phone calls in the last couple of weeks. It’s happening all over the country and certainly New Mexico is no exception and our region are no exception. When we get the phone call that we have a presumptive positive, we go ahead and presume that it’s positive and then we do contact tracing and if they’ve been at the Lab in certain areas, we’ll make decisions on others that we might send home until that presumptive positive is tested,” Beierschmitt said. “So if I come to work today and I’ve touched 10 people over the course of my workday even though I’m social distancing, wearing a mask and things of that nature, we would send the people in that area home until I was tested to be negative.”
He added that contact tracing has allowed the Lab to limit or severely mitigate any transmittal at work.
“In face, we haven’t found a case yet where we’ve noted transmission at work. Most of the transmission is coming from the communities they’re coming from. Of course we have staff that live all over the region so we’re also tracking hotspots where our staff might be driving from,” Beierschmitt said.
He noted that McKinley County was a real challenge and that additional guidance was sent to McKinley County that they employees if didn’t have to be on site during this period of time they should not be on site.