NASA's Ames Research Center (opens in new tab) in California has issued a mandatory policy for employees to work from home after one worker tested positive for the coronavirus (opens in new tab) responsible for COVID-19.
The research center, which is located in Moffett Field in the Silicon Valley, has been placed on restricted access after the employee was confirmed to have the coronavirus on Sunday (March 8).
"On Sunday, March 8, we received confirmation that an Ames employee tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19)," Ames officials wrote to employees today (opens in new tab). "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."
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement that the work-from-home order is vital to tracking who may have been exposed to the virus at Ames.
"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," Bridenstine said in a statement (opens in new tab). "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."
Access to the Ames Research Center is now restricted to essential personnel only, Bridenstine said, with only employees "required to safeguard life, property and critical mission functions" allowed entry.
NASA has also called off three airborne Earth science campaigns that would have sent teams of scientists on flights that would have taken off from the Ames Research Center. Those mission — known as DeltaX, Dynamics and Chemistry of the Summer Stratosphere (DCOTTS), and Sub-Mesoscale Ocean Dynamics Experiment (S-MODE)— will be rescheduled for later in the year, Bridenstine said.
"The scientific returns of these projects are not expected to be impacted by this change of plans," he said in the statement.
The mandatory work-from-home order at Ames comes on the heels of a telework test run Friday (March 6) by NASA to measure the impact the coronavirus could have on daily operations.
"Last Friday's agencywide voluntary telework exercise was a good test of NASA's large-scale preparedness with no reported issues to the overall IT system," Bridenstine said. "As the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation evolves, we'll continue to closely monitor and coordinate with federal, state, and community officials to take any further appropriate steps to help safeguard the NASA family."
As of today, there are about 564 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, the bulk of them in Washington state and California, with 111,354 cases confirmed worldwide, according to Livescience (opens in new tab). There have been 3,892 deaths linked to the virus worldwide, it added.
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