COVID-19 infections resurged at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in recent weeks as cases of the virus climbed in the communities surrounding the nuclear waste repository in southeast New Mexico.
There were 14 positive cases among workers at the site or associated with the facility reported between Aug. 17 and 31, per the latest report from Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP) – WIPP’s primary operations contractor.
In total, WIPP reported as of Aug. 31, there were 25 active cases.
WIPP officials did not report the identities of patients or companies where the infected workers were employed.
All employees at WIPP were encouraged to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, per an NWP news release, and required to wear protective face masks when indoors, vaccinated or not, and social distance when possible.
WIPP workers are also teleworking when possible to reduce population density at the facility, the release read.
“The safety and health of our workers remains our top priority. As such, the Department of Energy and its contractors continue to follow (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and New Mexico Department of Health guidelines…,” read a statement from NWP.
“The Department and Nuclear Waste Partnership are also encouraging employees to obtain their COVID vaccination and are working with the local medical community to make vaccines available to our workers.”
The latest report from the New Mexico Health Department showed 63 cases of COVID-19 reported in Eddy County on Friday, with 82 cases in Lea County.
The recent report marked an increase from the single-digit or no-case reports at the beginning of the year before the spread of the Delta variant health experts blamed for a statewide and national uptick in infections.
A woman in her 50s from Eddy County was reported dead from the virus on Friday, along with a man in his 70s from Lea County.
Other deaths reported in the latest release were a woman in her 40s from Bernalillo County, two men in their 80s from Dona Ana and Grant counites, along with a woman and man in their 60s from San Juan County.
Eddy and Lea counties had some of the lowest vaccination rates in the state.
About 44.5 percent of Eddy County residents received a full vaccination, state records show, while about 54 percent got at least one shot.
Lea County had 45.2 percent of residents with a full series and 54.3 percent had at least one shot.
As New Mexico’s COVID-19 numbers began to rise this summer, the State in August re-implemented a requirement that all residents where face masks when indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
Medical workers and staff at public, private and charter schools were required to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing for the virus.
“We have several effective tools that work to prevent serious illness and death at this stage of this pandemic,” said New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. “The two most relevant at this moment are vaccines and facemasks.
“I know many New Mexicans who are conscientious about public health and committed to protecting their families and communities have already resumed wearing their facemasks.”
Past COVID-19 cases at WIPP
Here is a list of COVID-19 cases in 2021 at WIPP as reported to the Current-Argus.
- May 6 to 13 – Two employees reported COVID-19 infections
- April 29 to May 6 – One infection reported
- April 16 – Two infections reported
- April 9 – One WIPP employee reported a positive COVID-19 case
- April 2 – Three WIPP workers reported COVID-19 infections
- March 26 – Three employees reported positive COVID-19 cases
- March 18 to 24 – One employee tested positive for the virus
- March 11 to 17 – Two workers were reported infected.
- March 4 to March 10 – One worker reported being infected with the virus.
- Feb. 25 to March 3 – One worker was reported infected, last at the site on Feb. 23.
- Feb. 18 to 24 – Two workers were infected, last at the site between Feb. 16 and 24.
- Feb. 11 to 17 – Two workers reported positive test results, last at the site between Feb. 4 and 8.
- Feb. 4 to 10 – Three WIPP were reported infected, last at the site from Jan. 27 to Feb. 8.
- Jan. 28 to Feb. 3 – Six WIPP workers were reported infected, last at the site from Jan. 18 to 28.
- Jan. 20 to 27 – Six workers with NWP were reportedly infected, last at the site from Jan. 11 to 20.
- Jan. 13 to 19 – 14 workers reported positive, last at the site between Dec. 3 and Jan. 17.
- Jan. 6 to 12 – 25 workers tested positive: 23 from NWP, one subcontractor and one from the CBFO, last at the site between March 24 and Jan. 6.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.