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Argonne National Laboratory

Coronavirus Updates

Updated 5/22/2020

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory is monitoring the global progression of the disease COVID-19, which is caused by a novel coronavirus. To protect the health and wellbeing of employees, collaborators, and visitors, we continue to assess and adjust our response to the outbreak. Our goal is to be transparent, timely, and flexible as we safeguard this community.

Throughout the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Argonne has continued to fulfill its mission critical functions while following the guidelines of the Administration, DOE, and other federal, and state and local authorities. As we begin planning for a return to full operations, the health and safety of our employees will remain our first priority. No timelines have been set, and Argonne will adapt its plans for a return to full operations based on the developing situation.

There is much more to learn about COVID-19. The latest situation summary is available from the CDC. As the situation evolves, we will update this FAQ.

Reducing Risk on Site

Q: How is Argonne responding to the stay-at-home order issued for Illinois on March 20?
A: As of March 21 and to cooperate with the stay-at-home order issued by the governor of Illinois, Argonne has reduced its operations such that only critical research and operational work is still taking place at our Lemont, IL site. Critical activities include: carrying out COVID-19 research, keeping the people and facilities conducting that research safe and secure, protecting government assets, and keeping the IT facilities running that support the thousands of our employees who are carrying out their vital R&D work remotely. Most laboratory employees are conducting their work remotely.

Q: Have any people who were at the lab recently been confirmed positive for COVID-19?
A: Yes. There have been positive cases among the Argonne community. All were diagnosed after the person had been away from the lab for some time (12 days or more), and none of the individuals were on-site during the two days prior to onset of symptoms (the early part of the infectious period). As a result, it is unlikely there is transmission risk on campus. This, combined with Argonne’s protective and cleaning actions, means the chance for transmission is very low. Information on other local cases can be found on the Illinois Department of Public Health’s (IDPH) state-wide summary.

Q: Has the laboratory restricted site access in response to COVID-19?
A: Yes. To help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and to support the stay at home executive order issued by the Governor of Illinois, Argonne National Laboratory moved into minimum safe operations mode, which requires almost all employees to telecommute effective March 21, 2020. Under this status, Lab access is limited to essential safety personnel, COVID-19 researchers, and a small number of other designated staff. The Department of Energy’s first priority continues to be the health and safety of its employees. As Argonne develops plans for reopening, it will continue to be informed by guidance from DOE, the Administration and CDC, and state and local authorities. No timelines have been set, and Argonne will continue to adapt its reopening plans to the developing situation.

Q: Has the lab canceled Argonne-hosted events, conferences, or workshops?
A: Yes. Event organizers have communicated to registered participants as appropriate.

Impact on Travel

Q: How has COVID-19 affected lab-related travel?
A: Following U.S. Department of Energy guidance based on information from CDC travel notices and the U.S. Department of State, we have temporarily restricted all business travel unless it is mission-essential.

We will lift these restrictions once it is safe to do so.

Regarding Contractors

Q: How are Argonne contractors/associates being impacted by the recent site restrictions implemented by the Lab as a result of COVID-19?
A: Argonne National Laboratory is committed to minimizing transmission of COVID-19 and has restricted access to its Illinois campus sites, effective March 17, 2020. Contractors who work with the Lab should contact their Argonne Technical Representative with any questions about the restrictions and to determine the most appropriate way to proceed with necessary work.

Prevention and Preparedness

Q: How do I minimize the likelihood of catching COVID-19?
A: The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus, because there is currently no vaccine. The CDC recommends everyday preventive actions to reduce the spread of all respiratory viruses.

Preventive actions that you can take include:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, especially unwashed hands.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces; disinfectants with 0.1% sodium hypochlorite or 62-71% ethanol significantly reduce coronavirus infectivity.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.     

These precautions will also help you avoid the flu, which Health and Employee Wellness (HEW) notes is present in the lab population. It is not too late to get a flu vaccine through your doctor or local pharmacy. If someone in your home catches the flu, this CDC guide for caregivers will be helpful.

About COVID-19

Q: What is a coronavirus?
A: Coronavirus” refers to a group of pathogens (RNA viruses) that cause respiratory and intestinal diseases. They can infect both humans and animals and sometimes spread to humans from other animals.

There are many regularly arranged protrusions on the surface of coronavirus particles, making them look like a crown or the sun’s corona when viewed under a microscope. Corona” means crown” in Latin.

Until the end of 2019, we were familiar with six coronaviruses that affect humans. Four are quite common and generally result in minor respiratory symptoms, like the common cold. The other two have greater impact on people and are rare: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS). A new, seventh coronavirus has now been identified in humans.

Q: What is COVID-19?
A: Doctors first identified the new coronavirus, temporarily called 2019-nCoV, in the city of Wuhan, China, in late December 2019. Researchers quickly analyzed its genetic information, or genome, to learn that it is 70% identical to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus. This information helps us understand how the virus is likely to behave and its impacts on humans.

In early February, the World Health Organization announced the official name of the disease caused by this virus: COVID-19. The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses renamed the virus SARS-CoV-2 because of its similarity to the known SARS coronavirus.

Q: How is COVID-19 transmitted?
A: Coronaviruses are spread mainly through close contact (within about six feet, according to the CDC, for a prolonged period), when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and another person comes into contact with the infectious droplets — which is how the flu and many other pathogens spread. Some evidence suggests that the new coronavirus may spread via fecal matter, so wash your hands after using the restroom. In some environments, coronaviruses can survive on surfaces, so regular sanitation of shared surfaces is important.

Q: Are there local cases of COVID-19 near Argonne’s main campus in Lemont, IL?
A: Yes, a very small number, all of whom are either recovered or receiving treatment in isolation. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) provides a state-wide summary.

The CDC lets each state determine whether to release patient information regarding coronaviruses. The DuPage County Health Department follows guidance set by IDPH and will not provide information about patients under investigation for coronavirus.

Q: Who is at risk for serious illness from COVID-19?
A: As with the flu, the elderly and individuals with medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to infections or complications are more likely to develop a serious illness. Unlike the flu, children and young adults are less likely to develop a serious illness.

Since COVID-19 poses a greater risk to certain populations, please support the decisions others make for their own safety. The CDC offers guidance to assist high-risk populations.

Q: Is there a treatment for people who have COVID-19?
A: There is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19. Instead, people infected with SARS-CoV-2 should receive supportive care to relieve symptoms and, in severe cases, support vital organ functions. The CDC provides excellent guidelines for care.

Argonne’s Efforts to Counter COVID-19

Q: Is Argonne National Laboratory applying any of its scientific expertise to COVID-19 research?
A: Yes. Argonne, in collaboration with other national, universities, and industry partners, is prioritizing work to treat the disease and slow or prevent its transmission.

Most recently, Argonne is part of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, which brings together the Federal government, industry, and academic leaders to provide access to the world’s most powerful, high-performance, computing resources in support of COVID-19 research.

The Advanced Photon Source (APS) and our supercomputers have the scale necessary to tackle this global public health threat:

  • APS beamlines are being used to determine the structures of coronavirus proteins to accelerate the development of drug therapies and potential vaccines.
  • Our Computing, Environment & Life Sciences (CELS) efforts are aimed at improving our understanding of the SARS-nCoV-2 virus/COVID-19 disease and developing treatment options, including antiviral drugs and vaccines.

Although Argonne researchers are studying the coronavirus, they are not working with live samples in Argonne facilities. 

Researchers at the University of Chicago’s Howard T. Ricketts Laboratory (HTRL), which is a secured facility located inside Argonne property, are working with live samples of SARS-CoV-2. The HTRL provides state-of-the-art Level 3 biocontainment facilities for conducting laboratory research on emerging infectious diseases. It is one of 13 regional biocontainment facilities located throughout the United States constructed through partnerships between the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and local academic institutions.