Fully vaccinated people at Savannah River Site not required to wear masks, memo shows

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May 17—Workers, contractors and visitors at the Savannah River Site who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the disease the coronavirus causes, are no longer required to wear masks, according to a recent memo reviewed by the Aiken Standard.

Those not fully vaccinated, though, are still required to wear masks at the site and its nuclear facilities. Full vaccination is reached two weeks after a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or two weeks after a single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The new masking rules, distributed May 14, coincide with updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"As vaccination rates rise and COVID-19 rates decline, the department has received updated mask guidance regarding fully vaccinated people," the Department of Energy dispatch states. It continues: "In addition, the DOE COVID-19 Coordination Team is working very closely with the White House COVID-19 Task Force on what returning to the workplace and what the future of the workplace will look like post-pandemic, taking into account the lessons we have learned for the entire federal government."

Masks were made a requirement at a majority of Savannah River Site operations in late June 2020, when 52 cumulative cases of COVID-19 had been recorded among the thousands-strong workforce. The first case of COVID-19 at the site — where millions of gallons of radioactive waste are stored and where tritium for the nation's nuclear weapons is handled and packaged — was logged in March 2020.

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions President and CEO Stuart MacVean earlier this year predicted the rate at which Savannah River Site workers get COVID-19 vaccines would ratchet up. At the time, in March, hundreds of site employees had "managed to get at least their first vaccination," MacVean said, and more than 1,000 other appointments had been booked.

Between Aiken, Barnwell and Allendale counties, which form a crescent around the 310-square-mile Savannah River Site, roughly 50,000 people have been fully vaccinated, state health data show. More broadly, 36% of South Carolina residents have been fully vaccinated. Pfizer vaccinations have proven most prevalent.

The City of Aiken repealed its mask mandate earlier this month, citing demonstrable progress in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Neither the city of North Augusta nor Aiken County have established a mask requirement.