Georgia’s biggest construction project sees first confirmed COVID case

Georgia Power officials describe the nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle as the largest construction project in the state. About 9,000 workers are assigned to the project, shown in this 2019 photo during an event, long before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. Georgia Power said for the first time a worker on the project has tested positive for the novel coronavirus. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Georgia Power officials describe the nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle as the largest construction project in the state. About 9,000 workers are assigned to the project, shown in this 2019 photo during an event, long before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. Georgia Power said for the first time a worker on the project has tested positive for the novel coronavirus. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

The novel coronavirus has hit Georgia Power's massive nuclear expansion project at Plant Vogtle, which logged its first worker to test positive for COVID-19.

Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said the company learned about the positive test Saturday afternoon, but he did not disclose whether the worker has been hospitalized.

There are about 9,000 workers assigned to the multibillion-dollar project, which Georgia Power has described as the largest construction project in the state.

About 128 workers are self-isolating because they were in close proximity to either the worker with COVID-19 or with any of 14 other workers who were tested for it but have yet to receive results, Kraft wrote in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday.

An additional 56 workers on the project south of Augusta were tested and got negative results for the virus, Kraft said.

“We have been taking immediate precautionary actions with each person tested and treating every test for COVID-19 as a possible confirmed test,” he wrote. Workers are told to self-isolate.

The company said it also has added portable hand-washing stations, adjusted break schedules, implemented some alternate work schedules, closed an on-site cafeteria and suspended on-site transit trams and shuttle buses.

In a press release last week, Sean McGarvey, the president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, commended “extraordinary measures” taken by Georgia Power parent Southern Co. to protect workers. On Monday he released a statement saying, in part, “We do whatever it takes to keep everyone safe.” He cited the addition of a free on-site medical clinic at Vogtle.

TV stations in the Augusta area previously reported worker concerns about alleged insufficient protections against coronavirus at the project, including worries about workers being too close together at times.

Last week, Southern Co. warned investors that the coronavirus pandemic could disrupt the Vogtle project's latest schedule and budget. The project was billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule long before the pandemic. Staff and consultants for the Georgia Public Service Commission had warned in the fall that even the project's updated schedule continued to face challenges.

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