An engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory died of COVID-19 on Saturday.
It’s the first death of an ORNL employee due to COVID-19.
The engineer, William Collier, 59, became sick the last weekend of August. He appears to have contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the community, the lab said Tuesday.
Collier worked in the Nonreactor Nuclear Facilities Division at ORNL. His obituary said he grew up in Oak Ridge, graduated from Oak Ridge High School in 1979, and graduated from Tennessee Technological University in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He worked for 37 years at ORNL and the Y-12 National Security Complex.
“The loss of a coworker was a possibility we have feared since the pandemic began, and our hearts go out to their family, friends, and colleagues,” ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia said in a message to staff members Tuesday. “This news tragically underscores the significance of the lab’s efforts to understand and combat COVID-19 and hardens our commitment to preventing its transmission and spread, through our own behaviors on campus and through research that is aiding the global fight against the virus.”
Collier died Saturday at St. Thomas West Medical Center in Nashville, according to his obituary.
Collier was born January 7, 1961, in Chattanooga, and he enjoyed many sports, including golfing, hiking, bowling, and traveling, his obituary said. His family received friends Wednesday evening at Weatherford Mortuary in Oak Ridge, and they will have a graveside service on Thursday morning at Oak Ridge Memorial Park. Memorials in Collier’s name can be made to the Emory Valley Center, 723 Emory Valley Road, Oak Ridge, TN 37830.
ORNL said Collier had followed protocols and reported his illness, received a test on campus and returned home, then remained home when the test was positive. The lab said it followed its own protocols for cleaning Collier’s work area and assuring that anyone who may have been in contact with him was unaffected.
No other ORNL employees were affected, ORNL said. Initially, two other ORNL employees were identified through contract tracing and were required by ORNL to self-quarantine, the lab said, but neither became infected and both have returned to work.
As of Saturday, 113 cases of COVID-19 had been reported among ORNL employees, and 32 of those cases were active. The lab has performed 15,321 tests.
“Our positive rate is less than 1 percent, well below community levels,” ORNL said.
Asked about the precautions in place at the lab, ORNL said about half of its staff members continue to work from home, and visits and tours have been canceled.
“We set guidelines aimed at limiting employee travel to high-risk areas and contact with individuals from high-risk areas,” ORNL said. “On campus, we created social distancing in common areas such as the cafeteria, and we require face coverings unless you’re alone in your work area or socially distanced outside. We ask all employees to report if they become sick and to remain home unless they wish to use our on-campus testing capacity. We adopted self-quarantine requirements for individuals who may have come in contact with the virus anywhere. We utilize contact tracing and decontaminate potentially affected areas.”
ORNL said it continues to monitor local and regional conditions in the community, and the lab has slowly brought small numbers of staff back onsite while ensuring social distancing, mask usage, and regular testing. As the lab has brought additional staff onsite, it has prioritized the needs of researchers who require onsite resources or facilities, particularly for COVID-19 related research. Some specific research activities might have shifted in favor of work that can be done remotely, but ORNL said it has been successful at continuing to deliver on its research commitments.