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NASA employee tests positive for coronavirus, prompting lockdown

Published Mar 11th, 2020 6:02PM EDT
coronavirus nasa
Image: NASA

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  • A NASA employee at the Ames Research Center in California tested positive for coronavirus. 
  • NASA has issued a mandatory work-from-home policy for all employees of the facility. 
  • The space agency will continue to monitor employees for symptoms to track the potential spread of the infection. 
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With new coronavirus cases popping up with troubling regularity across the United States, it was really only a matter of time before someone at NASA came down with the virus. That person happens to be an employee at the Ames Researcher Center in Silicon Valley, and the positive diagnosis has prompted NASA to take appropriate measures to keep its staff safe.

The agency issued a mandatory work-from-home policy for employees of the facility for the time being. Right now, the top priority for the research center is to determine whether or not anyone else may have been exposed to the virus, and ensure that those individuals remain home to prevent the continued spread of the illness.

“On Sunday, March 8, we received confirmation that an Ames employee tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19),” Ames employees were told via email. “We believe the exposure at the center has been limited, but — out of an abundance of caution, and in consultation with NASA Headquarters and the NASA Chief Health and Medical Officer in accordance to agency response plans — Ames Research Center will temporarily go to a mandatory telework status until further notice.”

The announcement explained that individuals who can’t feasibly work from home — as you’d imagine, a lot of scientists working at a research center need equipment to do their jobs — will have to wait for “more guidance” on how to proceed. What is made absolutely clear is that the individuals that work at Ames should avoid reporting to the facility until the all-clear is given.

“Limiting personnel at the center will allow Ames medical personnel and public health officials to determine potential contacts and assess areas that may require additional cleaning and mitigate potential exposure to center personnel,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said of the temporary lockdown. “Working with county officials, Ames leadership and medical personnel are working to trace the contacts of the employee and notifying individuals who may have had significant contact with that person.”

This unfortunate situation shows just how dramatically the COVID-19 outbreak can affect large-scale operations, even at a place like NASA. A single staff member that tests positive for the virus may have put many others at risk, and a mandatory lockdown and monitoring of employees as they work from home is the only responsible way to proceed.

NASA doesn’t offer an estimate of when staff will be invited back to work, but as it can take weeks for symptoms to surface even after a person is infected, Ames will likely remain dark for some time.